34. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Secretary of State Rogers
  • Secretary of Defense Laird
  • General Wheeler, Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson
  • Ambassador Armin Meyer
  • Minister Richard L. Sneider
  • Ronald Ziegler
  • Bryce Harlow
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member
  • Leadership Members

    • Senator Mike Mansfield, Majority Leader
    • Senator Hugh Scott, Minority Leader
    • Senator Richard Russell, President Pro Tempore
    • Speaker John McCormack, Speaker of the House
    • Congressman Gerald R. Ford, Minority Leader
  • Committees

    • Senator John Stennis, Chairman, Armed Services Committee
    • Senator Margaret Chase Smith, Ranking Republican, Armed Services Committee
    • Congressman L. Mendel Rivers, Chairman, Armed Services Committee
    • Senator J. William Fulbright, Chairman, Foreign Relations Committee
    • Senator George D. Aiken, Ranking Republican, Foreign Relations Committee
    • Congressman E. Ross Adair, Ranking Republican, Foreign Affairs


  • President’s Meeting with Congressional Leaders on Okinawa

The President opened by explaining the burning desire among the Japanese for the reversion of Okinawa, and Sato’s understanding of the security value of Okinawa to the Japanese as well as to the US. The President then declared that he appreciated the need for consultation with the Congress on handling Okinawa reversion, and referred to the need for legislation on this matter. However, we did not yet know what type of legislation would be needed to handle Okinawa’s reversion. Continuing, the President discussed US-Japanese trade issues, noting recognition on the part of the Japanese that their interests were better served if they moved in trade, aid and investment matters rather than maintaining their present position. He also explained that due to the Japanese sensitivity on Okinawa, no indication could be given that we received any quid pro quo on Okinawan reversion, and had to treat each issue separately. The President then called on Secretary Rogers for comments.

The gist of Secretary Rogers’ remarks was that the agreement we had reached with the Japanese had turned out very well—so much so that it would be hard for him to describe just how good it was. He called on Under Secretary Johnson to provide a briefing on the main details.

Under Secretary Johnson went over the ground of the agreement with the Japanese in accordance with the State briefing paper.2 He pointed out that the present task would be to turn the agreement (which had been reached with the Japanese in principle) into an actual document covering all aspects of reversion, and he estimated that it would be mid-1971 before final agreement on the details would be reached. Our objective was to turn over Okinawa in 1972 conditional on completion of the detailed agreements; hence we had not lost our bargaining leverage over the Japanese.

The President requested Ambassador Johnson to amplify why it was that settling the Okinawa question would help out in the use of our bases in Japan. Ambassador Johnson and Secretary Rogers explained jointly that the agreement gave us a wider legal basis on employment [Page 106] of the bases due to the language in the Joint Communiqué providing for the use of the bases against aggression in the Far East, in order to carry out treaty obligations. This was an extension over the previous area of coverage.

Congressman Rivers questioned whether the bases on Japan would actually be used to such an extent, in response to which the President said, as Ambassador Johnson knew very well from his service as Ambassador to Japan, the questions of Okinawa and nuclear weapons were very emotional in Japan. Nevertheless, on the issue of defense of the region, Japan needed to play a greater role. This would come, but would take some time. Japan was the second ranking economic power in the Free World, and therefore must play a greater role in terms of defense contributions. In Sato, who was likely to remain in power, we had a man who recognized the facts of life, and in the atmosphere of mutual trust established in the reversion talks we could work toward a goal in which Japan would take over a much greater burden. We would accomplish our purpose without pushing and dominating.

Ambassador Johnson mentioned that Sato planned to call general elections soon and get another mandate. He would probably do very well. As far as Japan’s role in defense was concerned, with anyone else than Sato, e.g. Miki, we would find ourselves in a much less favorable position.

The President said that he had been in Japan, and knew Sato as a man committed on our side in the broadest sense—he understood the problems of the region and was sophisticated. Most important, in him we had a man who would use the Okinawa agreement as a basis for establishing the future role which Japan should play. This would not be a nuclear role, but would involve a bigger contribution on the economic side and a greater military responsibility for Japan’s own defense. Japan would also help other countries militarily by means of economic aid.

Congressman Rivers stated that the Congress of course had to back the President up. He termed the President the only man able to deal with the economic problems the Japanese posed for us. Militarily, his Committee had a stake in the reversion question, which was therefore not exclusively a responsibility of the Foreign Relations Committee. The President would not hear that he had said anything critical on the floor of the House. He reiterated that “we must back you up”. There would be complications, but the best interests of the country were being served. He wondered, though, whether Secretary Laird was happy. He expressed pleasure in hearing that the Japanese under Sato were more cooperative.

Ambassador Johnson cited the Communiqué as reaffirming the Japanese intention of continuing the Security Treaty indefinitely. On [Page 107] this score, the President said that he thought we had reached an agreement which was the best we could get at this time. What was the important thing was implicit in the Communiqué rather in the words themselves. He had spent more time with Sato than with any other head of Government and was convinced that we would make progress.

Secretary Rogers brought up the subject of financial arrangements connected with the Okinawa return, and said that we were quite satisfied with what we had received.

Secretary Laird referred to the fact that we had built a tremendous military base on Okinawa, and had also made a tremendous investment there [less than 1 line not declassified]. We had not wanted this responsibility, but had to take it. The significant thing about the Communiqué and the Prime Minister’s Press Club speech was that we would of course retain our nuclear capability through 1972 and could use it prior to that time if conditions did not improve in Asia and the Chinese Communists developed a nuclear threat.3 He agreed with previous remarks concerning Japan’s growing recognition that it had a role to play. In the event our nuclear weapons were moved out, [3 lines not declassified]. He supported the President in saying that this was the best agreement that could have been worked out, and after the 1972 time period, with recognition on the part of the Japanese people and Government of their Asian military role, additional arrangements could be worked out.

Congressman Ford raised a question concerning the dollar costs involved in Okinawan reversion. Would the Japanese payments be for our investments already there, or for replacement facilities? Ambassador Johnson replied that the Japanese would pay for some installations which they took over on Okinawa and also would pay the costs of moving nuclear storage facilities to other areas. Secretary Rogers commented that we were keeping the amounts in general terms. The President confirmed that this point had been covered in his conversation with Sato, but he did not want anyone present to say so. He hoped that everyone would understand why.

The President then turned to General Wheeler and asked him to give the views of the Joint Chiefs. General Wheeler declared that the Joint Chiefs frankly preferred a status quo position because of the nuclear aspect. If the status quo were not possible, they would like to have seen specific language in the Communiqué providing for emergency re-entrance and transit rights. He was glad to see that the Communiqué contained language which would have the effect of preserving these rights. As to the impact of Okinawan reversion, he could assure [Page 108] those present that with some added constraints, all of the operations we had been carrying out from Okinawa could be handled from other locations in WESTPAC. Relocation would reduce to some degree our flexibility, including our reaction time, depending on the nature of the contingency. However, the Joint Chiefs had concluded that relocation would not pose any insoluble military problems.

Speaker McCormack asked what was meant by “insoluble.” General Wheeler explained that while we would need to adjust contingencies and readjust reaction times, we still would be able to do the job. In response to a further question from Speaker McCormack on examples of what was meant, General Wheeler mentioned [less than 2 lines not declassified]

The President said that Sato was one of the rare Japanese who had a world view. With respect to Sino-Soviet problems, and also European problems, he was very sophisticated.

Senator Scott asked if the President was in a position to tell US business leaders that negotiations were proceeding on trade and economic matters. The President answered affirmatively, pointing out that the previous day’s announcement after the talks had primarily dealt with economic matters. Discussions would continue, and he was hopeful in this respect. Ambassador Johnson and Secretary Rogers referred to paragraphs 12, 13 and 14 of the Communiqué as handling economic topics. They pointed out that the Japanese did not wish to appear as bargaining to get their sovereignty back, and therefore Sato’s Press Club speech and the Communiqué, while making clear what he intended to do, would not make economic measures part of the bargain. They pointed out that Sato had major problems in Japan in this regard. We had gotten a lot from Sato and would get more.

Senator Stennis referred to the President’s various statements on Asian policy, saying that he had made clear how our policy was changing. With respect to our position on responsibility for the defense of Japan itself, though, he wanted to know how the Japanese could be brought into line. Secretary Rogers explained that the Security Treaty remained in effect, and the Japanese now would assume a greater share in the defense of Okinawa. Meanwhile our own capabilities would not diminish. Senator Stennis asked if we should get a statement from the Japanese that they would increase their contribution to their own defense. Should we meet this issue head on? Secretary Rogers replied that the Communiqué stated our security commitments were essential to the defense of Japan.

Senator Stennis reiterated that we had to start somewhere in getting them to assume a greater share and wondered if we were not bargaining away our leverage on the Japanese through Okinawa’s reversion. Ambassador Johnson then outlined Japan’s defensive capabilities, [Page 109] bringing out that by 1975 Japan would be spending 1.5% of its GNP on defense. This would be $5 or 6 billion annually, about the level of Germany and France, and above that of Italy. He ventured a guess that when the pendulum started to move, it might move faster than we liked. Secretary Laird observed that Japanese contributions were improving. Secretary Rogers added that the Communiqué took this whole issue into consideration. Prior to 1972 we would certainly urge the Japanese to do more.

The President said that he could respond directly to Senator Stennis’ apprehensions. In his first day’s discussions with Sato, he had gone into the doubts in Congress and in the country as a whole over the burden the US was carrying in Asia, not only in Vietnam but elsewhere. He had told Sato the time had come for the Japanese to assume a greater burden in defending Okinawa and Japan. The reference to the use of bases in Japan with respect to Korea and Taiwan was a step in that direction. The Japanese defense budget had also been discussed. Sato had said that the Japanese could not acquire nuclear weapons but could do much more in the field of air power and sea power. The President, too, felt that they might move faster than we anticipated and faster than others might want. However, he had the utmost confidence in Sato, and believed that Japan would not want to be just a big economic force. The Japanese wanted to play a world role in providing economic assistance, and would assume a military burden greater than that of their own defense. They had already moved considerably.

Congressman Rivers declared that he would explain these problems to Congress and would say that the President was telling the truth.

Speaker McCormack commented that the Japanese simply wanted an umbrella, but not the expense. The President explained that the Japanese did indeed have problems, including opposition from leftists and Communists, but were a proud people who wanted to play a bigger role.

Senator Fulbright stated that he did not want to leave the record completely bare of any word from him. In his opinion the President was accepting the inevitable in a graceful way. There was no real choice, and what the President did was to make the best possible choice. The sooner the President liquidated obligations left over from World War II, the better off we all would be. The country would be broke unless the President were to do so. Okinawan reversion was a step in the direction which the Symington Subcommittee was trying to move our policy as a whole. With respect to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the President would have no trouble, since he was moving in the direction the Committee wanted to move. As for himself, he said he hoped we would not threaten anyone with nuclear weapons. In conclusion, he stated that “what you are doing is the right thing.”

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 554, Country Files, Far East, Okinawa Gas Incident, July 8, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that this briefing for congressional leaders lasted from 9:07 to 10:15 a.m. (Ibid., White House Central Files, Daily Diary) Holdridge sent this memorandum of conversation to Kissinger under a December 1 memorandum, upon which Kissinger wrote: “For my files only. Put also into my Chron. I was there too, if it makes any difference.”
  2. A November 10 memorandum from Assistant Secretary of Defense Nutter, coordinated with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and approved by Deputy Secretary of Defense Packard, amended the Department of State’s talking points on Okinawa. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 JAPAN) U. Alexis Johnson sent Kissinger the revised Department of State talking points for briefing Congress, which had DOD concurrence, on November 13. (Memorandum from Johnson to Rogers, November 13; ibid., POL 19 RYU IS)
  3. See footnote 3, Document 31.