329. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Takeo Fukuda, Prime Minister of Japan
  • Vice President Walter Mondale
  • Cyrus Vance, Secretary of State
  • Iichiro Hatoyama, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor
  • Sunao Sonoda, Minister of State and Chief Cabinet Secretary
  • Thomas Shoesmith, Charge’ d’Affaires, American Embassy, Japan
  • Fumihiko Togo, Japanese Ambassador
  • Keisuke Arita, Deputy Vice Foreign Minister
  • Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia
  • Toshio Yamazaki, Director General
  • Hisashi Owada, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Koji Watanabe, Division Chief, First Section North American Affairs Bureau, Foreign Ministry
  • Henry Owen
  • Michael Armacost, Senior Staff Member, NSC (Notetaker)
  • Robert Hormats, Senior Staff Member, NSC
  • Ryuichiro Yamazaki (Interpreter)
  • James Wickel (Interpreter)
  • William Sherman, Japan Country Director, Department of State

The President began by outlining to the large meeting the points discussed in his preceding private talk with Prime Minister Fukuda.2 He underscored the importance the U.S. attaches to nonproliferation and the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, and noted that we are currently in the process of developing a national policy concerning energy which would be made public in mid-April. He expressed his belief that reprocessing spent fuel elements of light water reactors is not necessary anywhere in the world. He noted that despite the billion dollar investment we have made in the Barnwell reprocessing facility in South Carolina, if we adopt the policy on reprocessing toward which he is currently inclined, that facility will not be used. He acknowledged that Japan has a large stake in nuclear energy and has developed its own pilot reprocessing plant at Tokai.3 He added that this issue—which will be on the agenda at the Summit meeting in London—will require international agreement, and he hoped that we could get all nations to forego the use of reprocessing capabilities. In this connection the President said he had given the Prime Minister the just-published report of American scientists on the problems and potential of nuclear energy use (Nuclear Power Issues and Choices). The President emphasized the need for very close consultations among governments to develop guidelines for restraint in this area which we would apply first to ourselves and to all nations of the world, not just Japan.

The President recognized that there are many nations involved in this problem. He stated that we have complete confidence in Japan’s sincere desire to avoid proliferation, but, he said, we need a worldwide agreement to control the proliferation of nuclear weapons capabilities. In this connection he referred to difficult negotiations we have already undertaken with Germany, Brazil, Pakistan, and France. In addition he said that we are trying to control the development of a nuclear weapons capability in Taiwan, the ROK, South Africa, and India. He noted that Canada and Australia, both major producers of uranium, are eager to control proliferation. He expressed again his belief that close consultations between the U.S. and Japan were desirable, whatever his final decision. He affirmed that we intend to avoid making our decisions in a way which would be embarrassing to Japan, but he reiterated his desire to promote a wide agreement concerning reprocessing capabilities that would help avoid the spread of nuclear weapons.

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The Prime Minister then emphasized the special position of Japan concerning nonproliferation. Japan, he said, is the only nation which suffered a nuclear attack; the Government of Japan firmly maintains the three non-nuclear principles, i.e. no manufacture, no use, no introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan. His concerns about nonproliferation, Prime Minister Fukuda said, may even exceed those of President Carter. At the same time, Japan’s energy situation compels it to explore all possible alternatives to fossil fuels. When Japan ratified the Nonproliferation Treaty, the GOJ promised the Diet and the Japanese public that this would remove impediments to Japan’s acquisition of a complete nuclear cycle, including reprocessing capabilities.4 Japan now has a pilot reprocessing plant which is ready to begin “hot” tests this summer. Inability to initiate these tests, Fukuda said, as a result of U.S. decisions would constitute his “biggest political headache”.5 The Prime Minister then posed the question: “Are other countries possessing reprocessing capabilities going to stop their activities in this field? What about the communist countries?” If the others continue, and Japan is prevented from doing so, he said this would constitute an example of “unforgivable inequality”. Prime Minister Fukuda promised to pass the report which the President had given him on to his experts, but he added that urgent consultations at a governmental level between the U.S. and Japan would be required. He asked, “Who is the highest and most authoritative U.S. representative on this subject with whom we should consult?”

The President indicated that the U.S. would try to obtain the agreement of the UK, France, West Germany, and the USSR—as well as Japan—to join us in stopping reprocessing. We think reprocessing is wasteful and unnecessary. We have no authority over other nations, he said, but we are thinking in terms of voluntarily complying with constraints on the use of reprocessing capabilities ourselves even in the ab[Page 830]sence of an international agreement. The President emphasized that we intend to assure reliable supplies of enriched uranium for light water power reactors, and the United States is moving in the direction of improving its ability to provide fuel to other nations. As for the USSR, he indicated that he did not know what position they would take, but Secretary Vance would be able to give a quick report after his visit to Moscow.6 Dr. James Schlesinger, he said, would represent him in further discussions with Japan on this subject.

The Prime Minister asked whether U.S. policy decisions in this area would be announced on April 20.

The President indicated they would.

The Prime Minister then asked whether the U.S. expected to be in touch with the British, French, Germans, and Japanese on this matter before that time.

The President again responded affirmatively.

The Prime Minister indicated his intent to designate someone from the Japanese side to represent his government in urgent consultations with Schlesinger.

The President said “fine”.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to non-proliferation.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, VIP Visit File, Box 8, Japan: Prime Minister Fukuda, 3/18–24/77, Folder 8. Secret; Noforn. The meeting occurred in the Cabinet Room. The memorandum is scheduled to be printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIV, Korea; Japan.
  2. Not found.
  3. The implications of the Japanese reprocessing plant at Tokai are analyzed in an NSC Paper, undated, attached to a memorandum from Brzezinski to Carter, April 5; ibid.
  4. In an undated memorandum, Vance told Carter that since Japan was “90 percent dependent on outside energy sources,” it saw nuclear power “as its only realistic means of reducing this dependence” in spite of its “historic sensitivity to the dangers of proliferation.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, VIP Visit File, Box 8, Japan: Prime Minister Fukuda, 3/18–24/77, Briefing Book [II]) Carter initialed Vance’s memorandum. In his memoirs, Brzezinski recalled that he had alerted Carter “to the extreme sensitivity of the Japanese to any changes in our nuclear policy and the impact these changes would have on U.S.-Japan relations.” (Brzezinski, Power and Principle, pp. 130–131)
  5. On February 25, the Embassy in Japan warned the Department of State that “the Japanese believe that controls on fuel reprocessing which the U.S. may adopt could set back their effort to make themselves less dependent on OPEC oil. It would be difficult to overstate the strategic importance of this issue. In all probability, few developments could contribute more to confirming Japan’s long-term orientation toward the U.S. than our assured cooperation in its nuclear energy program.” (Telegram 2626 from Tokyo, February 25; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770065–0493)
  6. Vance met with Soviet leaders in Moscow, March 28–30. See Document 332.