24. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Tanaka, Special Adviser to Prime Minister Sato on Okinawa Talks
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member


  • Remarks by Ambassador Tanaka Concerning Joint Statement Between President Nixon and Prime Minister Sato

Ambassador Tanaka said that for some time the Japanese have been negotiating with American representatives concerning the joint statement, and that it was almost ready except for the nuclear issue.2 So far, there had been no indication of US thinking on this issue, and the Japanese had merely been told that it would be decided during the talks between President Nixon and the Prime Minister. This problem, he declared, was very important for the Japanese, and the success or failure of Sato’s visit would be decided on this question. For the Japanese, public relations were extremely important, and through conversations with Department of State officers, he had the impression that the important matter of substance on the US side was the introduction of nuclear weapons into Okinawa on an emergency basis. He, Tanaka, had talked with the Foreign Minister, and was given to understand that the Japanese have no disagreement with the US on matters of substance, but that the public relations problem with respect to the joint statement was extremely important—even a slight change in the language of the statement as proposed by the Japanese would be very delicate and would have serious repercussions.

Dr. Kissinger remarked that there had been many versions of the joint statement, and he was somewhat unsure to which version Ambassador Tanaka was referring. Ambassador Tanaka gave a rough version of the statement as phrased by the Japanese, in which it was stated that the President agreed the reversion of Okinawa would be carried out in a manner consistent with Japanese Government policy, without prejudice to the US position, and without prejudice to the position on [Page 73] prior consultation expressed in the Security Treaty. Of course, he added, the actual substance would be decided at the NixonSato meeting, but the language of the statement was extremely important. The Foreign Minister had studied this problem for a long time, and felt that even having this reference to “without prejudice to the US position” was difficult and the maximum the Japanese could afford. Any change would make the position of Sato very difficult.

Dr. Kissinger said he understood the problem and he had looked at the drafts, of which there have been many—so many that he was becoming an expert on this particular issue. However, the President had reserved the final decision. He, Dr. Kissinger, understood the Japanese problem, but was under strict instructions. The Department of State had been told that there would be no more negotiations on this issue and no more positions. If anyone were to come up with a proposal for breaking deadlocks, it was to be ignored.

Continuing, Dr. Kissinger observed that the President had a high regard for the Prime Minister and had no intention of making his life difficult. Therefore he would approach the issue in a good spirit. As far as Ambassador Tanaka’s comments were concerned, he was glad to have the Ambassador’s views. On the point of whether this was the limit of what the Japanese could do, Tanaka was a good negotiator and wouldn’t tell us anyway what his position was. In any respect, Dr. Kissinger noted, he could not give any indication of our own position until the President had a chance to talk with the Prime Minister other than to reiterate the President’s high regard. The Japanese could be sure he would approach the matter in a constructive spirit.

Ambassador Tanaka stressed that this was a crucial moment for the Japanese. The Security Treaty had been in existence for ten years and there was considerable internal turmoil regarding the Treaty. The Opposition’s objectives were focussing on the Okinawa question, charging that they suspected that the Okinawa negotiations and security relationship would hurt Japan’s interest. Therefore for the first half or more of next year, there would be difficult days in Japan, and the nuclear question would be the center of contention.

Dr. Kissinger remarked that the leftists would be in opposition no matter what, and noted that the Security Treaty had not lapsed but rather had to be denounced. It would be maintained though, so long as it was in the mutual interests of both countries. But he understood the Ambassador’s views very well on the nuclear problem. Again, he reassured the Ambassador that the President was certain to be understanding, and that if the President had any different views these would be presented frankly.

Ambassador Tanaka reiterated once more the sensitivity of the Japanese on the language of the joint statement, to which Dr. Kissinger [Page 74] repeated that he could not commit the President who may have different views. At any rate he was glad to have the chance to see Tanaka and hear what he had to say. At this point Ambassador Tanaka remarked that the proposed draft was “nearly the maximum” of the Japanese position. The reference to prior consultations opened the way for a future relationship. Dr. Kissinger responded by referring to our own Congressional and bureaucratic problems, and we had to see what we could reconcile. But the President knew the Prime Minister, respected him and would approach the issue with good will and a constructive attitude. If there were any differences, he would present them and see what could be done.

Ambassador Tanaka concluded by mentioning that on other questions between the two countries, by which he meant economic matters, the Japanese were really doing the best that they could. The nuclear matter was really the crucial problem. Dr. Kissinger said he understood and was sorry that he could not have been more communicative.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1026, Presidential/HAK Memcons, Memcons—June–Dec 1969 Presidential/HAK [1 of 2]. Top Secret; Sensitive. No meeting time is indicated. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office.
  2. The “joint statement” is a reference to the communiqué slated to be issued on November 21 after the Nixon-Sato summit. See footnote 2, Document 27.