35. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Prime Minister Eisaku Sato of Japan
  • The President
  • Genichi Akatani, Deputy Director of Information, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Interpreter)
  • James J. Wickel, Special Assistant to Ambassador Meyer (Interpreter)


  • 1. Textiles; 2. Okinawa and Nuclear Weapons; 3. Japan’s Larger Role; 4. NPT; 5. Vietnam

1. Textiles

The Prime Minister expressed confidence that he would handle the questions at the Press Club this noon very well. The fact that it was known that he did not understand English well would be helpful.

The Prime Minister said that several textile industry representatives had “shown their faces” last night, but he did not see them because he did not wish to receive any petitions during this visit. He expressed deep gratitude to the President for his “magnanimous” decision on Okinawa, and also for the President’s agreement to treat Okinawa and textiles separately. For this very reason, therefore, he felt deeply his own responsibility with respect to textiles. Already this morning he had explained to Foreign Minister Aichi and Ambassador Shimoda how this matter should be handled. First, and foremost, his agreement with the President should be kept “absolutely confidential” and not announced to the press. By the end of December, however, he promised the President that this matter would be resolved. He urged the President to feel free should any problem arise to discuss it with Ambassador Shimoda, to whom he had given a thorough explanation of what should be done. He pledged to the President to bear the full responsibility for reaching a solution.

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The Prime Minister agreed that it would be desirable to resolve the issue through “comprehensive” discussions, but noted that the word “comprehensive” had gradually acquired an unpopular nuance through previous use; to eliminate possible public misunderstanding in Japan its use was gradually being eliminated in the present talks in Geneva. Its “revival” at this point would inappropriately counter the trend of the discussion by the American and Japanese sides in the Geneva talks, in which the Japanese initially advocated a solution limited to the “elements” which were a problem but the Americans advocated the inclusion of all “elements,” i.e., a “comprehensive” solution. The differences between both sides in Geneva were being narrowed in their discussions of the problem. He felt that the general desires of the United States could be achieved, but both sides needed to engage in further discussions. It seemed to him that the best course was to have the staff-level representatives continue their discussions. Initially it was thought that the fact that these discussions were taking place in Geneva ought to be kept secret, but there was no need to keep them secret now that this fact was known publicly. The experts on each side might differ in their opinions, and a “deadlock” might be unavoidable at some point, necessitating a recess of several days. However, any attempt to hold new discussions in a new forum in a new place would create a “misunderstanding” in Japan. He cautioned that he and the President could keep their own discussion of textiles secret, but the delegates in Geneva were in daily contact with the press and could not keep every aspect of the talks secret. Therefore it would be helpful to make a clear decision as to which matters of substance could be announced, and which could not. Naturally, nothing of substance should be disclosed while the talks were in progress. If this kind of procedure were agreeable, he was confident that a solution could be achieved.

The Prime Minister said that Ambassador Nakayama, a career Foreign Ministry official who was serving as chief delegate for Japan, had sufficient rank to exercise responsibility, but the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) was represented by an official of lower rank; as soon as he returned to Japan, the Prime Minister said, he intended to replace him with a higher-ranking, more responsible MITI official, who could help lead the matter to a final resolution. He had explained his position at length before going on with their discussion because he wanted the President to understand the points he had outlined above.

The President said that it was important that the United States and Japan reach a meeting of the minds by the end of December, because the United States did wish to present this matter to the GATT with an understanding between our two countries.

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The President said that he had told Congressional leaders in a security briefing earlier this morning that there could be and was no understanding on textiles.2 They clearly understood that there was no direct link between Okinawa and textiles, although there would be broad references to economic matters in the Joint Communiqué, as well as in the Prime Minister’s speech at the Press Club today. That was how he answered that question by the Congressional leaders.

The Prime Minister expressed his appreciation for this.

The President said that it would be most helpful if the Prime Minister responded to questions at the Press Club luncheon in a similar manner. Of course, he would have to say that their discussions covered the broad range of economic issues, including textiles, but there would be no disclosure of their understanding on textiles. The “appropriate time” at which the United States would raise this matter in the GATT could also be determined by the current discussions between both countries.

The President said that the matter of the word “comprehensive” was more difficult. Secretary Stans and the Department of Commerce felt strongly that there should be a “comprehensive agreement” but how to interpret this was a matter open to discussion. He hoped that the two nations could reach as broad as possible an agreement at Geneva, because he faced a practical political problem on this, just as the Prime Minister faced a practical political problem with respect to Okinawa. He referred, of course, to our textile people; and in this area the language was perhaps more important than the substance, and our own people were pressing for a comprehensive agreement. He would appreciate it if the Prime Minister would cooperate as much as possible to work out an agreement as comprehensive as possible, rather than a “selective” agreement, which would pose a serious problem for him here.

The Prime Minister, having noted well the President’s statement, and having explained that he had not entered into a commitment limited to this time and this place, committed his sincerity and all of his efforts to achieve a solution to this problem. It was his “personal credo” to do what he promised. There would be difficulties in solving this issue, particularly with the textile industry in Japan, which was no easier to handle than the American textile industry; but the Prime Minister said that “he could vow” to devote his full efforts to achieve the agreement the President desired. “Please trust me”.

The President said that this was “good enough” for him.

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When the President shook hands on it with him, the Prime Minister said that “mutual trust” was important.

2. Okinawa and Nuclear Weapons

The Prime Minister then asked about the reaction of the Congressional leaders to the nuclear issue.

The President said that this worked out well. Secretary Laird and JSC Chairman Wheeler reassured the leaders that the Joint Communiqué language on prior consultation was adequate to deal with security problems. Some leaders, particularly on the Senate Armed Services Committee would raise questions, but they would not represent the prevailing sentiment. Japan’s recognition, in the Joint Communiqué, of its responsibility for the defense of Okinawa, and to the security of the ROK and Taiwan was most helpful.

3. Japan’s Larger Role

The President said that several Congressional leaders had asked him whether Japan was ready to play a larger role in defense (excluding nuclear weapons) beyond the borders of Japan. In response to them, he had said that he and the Prime Minister had discussed that matter, on which basis he felt confident that Japan would play a continuing greater role in the economic and defense areas (once again, excluding nuclear weapons), as the Prime Minister had said to him.

The Prime Minister said that national security was the primary responsibility of the political leader of any one nation. Therefore, he was fully aware that we must have a “good agreement” on Okinawa which would help Japan maintain its own security. He confessed that he sometimes jokingly said that no one knew how United States-Soviet relations would develop in the future, “and perhaps someday the United States might have to re-occupy the islands”. (Note: During the next statement by the President but not at this point in his own statement, which he continued to make, the Prime Minister said to his interpreter “That was a joke; I hope the President understood that it was a joke”.) After all, Japan and the USSR had a Treaty of Non-Aggression in 1945, and the Soviets had no cause to declare war on Japan, but they attacked and occupied Manchuria.

The President said that he and the Congressional leaders shared the strong feeling, now that we had resolved the last great issue arising out of World War II, i.e. Okinawa, that the United States would welcome Japan playing the role it ought to play in the world, not just in the economic areas, but in security areas as well, as he had already told the Prime Minister. He understood that the Prime Minister had budget problems, just as he did, and a political problem created by those who wished to make Japan defenseless to the Soviet Union and [Page 114] Communist China. The United States would continue to play a major role in the Pacific, but it should not play the predominant role there. In viewing Asia, the British, French and Dutch were gone, and Germany was too late to get in. In the new Asia, the only powerful free world nation there to play a role in Asia was Japan. Therefore, he had directed his staff advisors to work out a solution to Okinawa, to permit Japan to do more to play a strong role in Asia. This would be healthy for both the United States and Japan, and as a result for the world.

4. NPT

The Prime Minister, turning to the NPT, said that there had been no change in Japan’s position based on the strong national sentiment against nuclear weapons, which had been conveyed to the United States by the Foreign Minister. Therefore, he had not prepared a new, and strong statement to make on nuclear weapons at this time. However, he felt that it was not necessary for Japan now to decide in haste to sign the NPT. If the United States felt that it required early Japanese signature he hoped it would so inform the Foreign Minister.

The President said that he would not press for this. Each must do so in its own time, when it felt it best to do so. If he came to feel differently he promised to inform the Prime Minister. Japan was a sovereign state and should make this decision itself. He had told the Germans the same thing. However, the United States would sign the NPT on Monday, as he had said earlier; the press had not yet been so informed.

5. Vietnam

The President hoped that the Prime Minister would read carefully his November 3 speech on Vietnam.3

The Prime Minister said that the President’s speech had greatly encouraged the nations of Southeast Asia.

The President said that Japan should not be involved in our problem in Vietnam, but he wished to explain the reason why he felt that he should take a strong stand. If the United States ended the war there in a way which would humiliate the United States, or which was, or could be interpreted as a defeat of the United States, and a victory for the communists and North Vietnam, it would mean that the United States would come home from Vietnam, but he feared that it would also mean that the United States would come home from the world. Therefore, all the free nations had a stake in whether the United States [Page 115] could end the war with honor, so that the people of South Vietnam could choose freely their own future, as did the Koreans in the ROK.

The Prime Minister said that he was convinced that a continuing United States presence was absolutely essential. While great difficulties remained to be resolved, the situation in Vietnam seemed to have slowly become calmer. He expressed admiration and respect for the President’s courageous policy.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 63, Memcons, Presidential File, 1969. Top Secret; Sensitive. Drafted by Wickel on November 24. The meeting took place at the White House. The President’s Daily Diary indicates that Nixon, Sato, and two interpreters met from 10:21 to 11:04 a.m., at which time they were joined by Foreign Minister Aichi and several Japanese diplomats. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files, Daily Diary) On November 20 Nixon received talking points from Kissinger for the next day’s meetings with Sato. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 63, Memcons, Presidential File, 1969)
  2. See Document 34.
  3. Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 901–909.