Deputies had ‘secret duty’ to tell boss of covert Japan-U.S. nuke pact

It was a ''secret duty'' of vice ministers to inform foreign ministers of a secret accord between Japan and the United States that has outlined the handling of nuclear weapons since 1960, a former vice foreign minister said Monday.

Ryohei Murata unveiled the yet-unknown details about the clandestine accord during a telephone interview with Kyodo News in which he agreed to break the anonymity he had initially requested in speaking about the pact, on which Kyodo reported last month.

Serving in the ministry's top bureaucratic post from 1987 to 1989, Murata, 79, is one of the four former vice ministers cited in the May 31 report that the accord has been controlled by top Foreign Ministry officials and only a handful of prime ministers and foreign ministers were informed of it.

He also indicated his readiness to disclose the truth about the pact if summoned by parliament, although he said, ''I maintain positive feelings about the Foreign Ministry...so I would like to decline'' to testify before the Diet if not compelled to do so.

The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee is considering summoning witnesses concerning the secret deal, the very existence of which has been denied by the Japanese government although shown by U.S. diplomatic documents declassified in the late 1990s.

Under the deal, which the two countries agreed on in revising the Japan-U.S. security treaty in 1960, Tokyo would give tacit approval on the stopover of U.S. military aircraft or vessels carrying nuclear weapons, although the treaty stipulates the need for Washington to hold a prior consultation with Tokyo to bring nuclear weapons into Japan.

In a press conference Monday morning, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura reiterated the government's view that such a secret pact ''does not exist'' and that no nuclear weapons must have been brought into Japan because prior consultations have never been held.

Murata agreed to reveal his name as one of Kyodo's sources after the Fukuoka-based Nishinippon Shimbun and other media from Sunday attributed reports on the matter to him.

In the March 18 interview with Kyodo in the city of Kyoto, he elaborated on condition of anonymity how successive vice foreign ministers have taken over the secret.

Revealing that a document recording it exists within the Foreign Ministry, Murata said, ''I heard from my predecessor at the time of takeover as vice minister that (an unpublicized) understanding exists between Japan and the United States concerning nuclear weapons, and turned it over to the next vice minister.''

''It was a great secret. The Japanese government has been lying to its people,'' Murata also said.

In Monday's interview, he said when he was vice minister, he notified foreign ministers of the time -- Tadashi Kuranari and Sosuke Uno -- about the pact, but not the prime ministers by himself.

Through the series of interviews before May 31, it was learned that only a limited number of prime ministers and foreign ministers were informed of the pact, including Ryutaro Hashimoto and Keizo Obuchi, whom one former vice minister said the ministry saw as trustworthy.

Murata had until March not unveiled details on how the secret was handed down within the ministry, while confirming its existence in his memoir published last year.

Born in Kyoto, Murata entered the Foreign Ministry in 1952 after graduating the Kyoto University Faculty of Law, served as vice foreign minister from 1987 until becoming ambassador to the United States in 1989, and retired from the ministry in 1994.

Since 2008, he has worked as vice chairman of the International Friendship Exchange Council, a nonprofit international exchange organization set up in 1981.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on June 29, 2009)