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U.S. signaled possible pullout of forces from Okinawa in 67

Date Posted: 2012-08-01

The timing is interesting, but the message in a diplomatic document released this week is even more stunning, as it called for the U.S. exiting Okinawa in 1967.

Ahead of Okinawa's reversion to Japanese control in 1972, then U.S. Defense Secretary Robert McNamara signaled the possibility of withdrawing forces from the southern Japanese island prefecture. In March 1967, even before bilateral negotiations started over Okinawa, McNamara said that Japan should play a far greater role in Asia in the future than the United States, according to the document, released by Japan's Foreign Ministry.

The remarks, made to former Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi, indicated the possibility of the United States withdrawing troops from Okinawa while effectively calling for Japan's help in using bases in Okinawa. McNamara also effectively encouraged Japan to contribute militarily to the future stability of the region. According to a top-secret telegram from the Japanese embassy in Washington, McNamara referred to Okinawa's reversion to Japan, which was pending at the time, at a meeting with visiting Kishi on March 23, 1967.

Noting that it was merely his personal view, McNamara said U.S. forces should stay no longer in Okinawa than is acceptable to Japan as host nation. U.S. forces do not need to be in Okinawa if they are just for the defense of San Francisco and Hawaii, McNamara explained, adding that they are in Okinawa to defend Japan and Southeast Asia. If Japan agrees to cooperate with the United States politically and allow ties to cover military affairs as well, U.S. forces will stay in Okinawa, McNamara said, adding that otherwise the troops would be withdrawn.

In response, Kishi said, "I understand that the United States is occupying Okinawa not for selfish reasons but for the stability and security of Japan and Asia," but quickly added, "It will be hard for the general public to understand this." McNamara said that a decision over the fate of Okinawa had to be made in the following one to five years.
Okinawa reverted to Japan five years later in 1972, after being under U.S. control for 27 years since Japan's defeat in World War II.

The document on the McNamara-Kishi talks are among 76 volumes of diplomatic records the Foreign Ministry made public at the Diplomatic Archives in central Tokyo on Tuesday. The records also highlight failed bilateral talks in 1970 over restrictions on Japanese textile exports to the United States following a summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Eisaku Sato and U.S. President Richard Nixon the previous year.

At the negotiations, the U.S. side pressured Tokyo to compromise, claiming that there is a written agreement between Sato and Nixon in which Japan pledged to introduce comprehensive voluntary curbs on its textile exports. The negotiations broke down in the end as Japan, denying the existence of such a document, felt deceived by Washington's hard-line approach, according to the diplomatic records.

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