Japan set narrow territorial waters along straits for U.S. nukes

Japan has set narrow territorial waters along its five key straits in order to avoid political issues arising from the passage of U.S. warships carrying nuclear weapons, former Japanese vice foreign ministers have told Kyodo News.

Japanese territorial waters along the Soya, Tsugaru, Osumi, Tsushima and Korea straits have been set at 3 nautical miles (5.6 kilometers) from shore, instead of the maximum allowable limit of 12 nautical miles (22 km).

U.S. vessels carrying nuclear weapons, including nuclear-powered subs with nuclear missiles, must have passed through the key straits during deterrence operations in the Sea of Japan to counter the nuclear threat from the former Soviet Union, China and North Korea, according to the former officials.

If territorial waters had been set at 12 nautical miles along the straits, there would have been no areas of open sea in some sections of the straits, forcing the vessels to cross Japanese waters, thus infringing on Japan's three nonnuclear principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its territory, they said.

The Japanese government has thus set territorial waters along the five straits at 3 nautical miles under the guise of placing priority on free passage through the key channels, they said.

The arrangements were made when the Japanese government discussed the territorial waters to be set along the channels while formulating a law to set limits up to 12 nautical miles, which was enforced in 1977, they said.

At the time, the government believed that the United States would continue to transport nuclear weapons through the channels even if territorial waters were set at 12 nautical miles along the straits because Japan had turned a blind eye to U.S. transportation of nuclear weapons through Japanese waters in line with a secret pact when the bilateral security treaty was revised in 1960, according to the former officials.

Questioned by Kyodo about the revelation, the Foreign Ministry said it was still formulating its response and will respond on or after Monday.

Kyodo submitted a written question to the ministry on Wednesday morning and asked the ministry to respond by Friday evening. The ministry said Friday it required more time before responding.

Kyodo reported in late May, quoting former vice foreign ministers, that a Japan-U.S. secret accord regarding the handling of nuclear weapons has been managed by top Foreign Ministry officials and only a handful of prime ministers and foreign ministers were informed of the fact.

At the time, the ministry gave a written comment denying the existence of such a secret deal between the two countries on the handling of nuclear weapons.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on June 21, 2009)