Okada orders thorough investigation over Japan-U.S. secret pacts

New Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said early Thursday that he has ordered the ministry's top bureaucrat to investigate the issue of alleged secret pacts between Japan and the United States, including one on the handling of nuclear weapons, and to issue a report around the end of November.

''I think there is a high probability that the secret pacts exist, but I do not have clear evidence,'' Okada told reporters, noting that Vice Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka has expressed his intention to comply with the order and launch the investigation around Sept. 25.

Okada issued the order immediately after assuming his ministerial post Wednesday, when newly elected Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, leader of the Democratic Party of Japan, launched his Cabinet.

Among the secret pacts subject to investigation is a purported 1960 secret Japan-U.S. pact under which Japan would allow stopovers in its territory by U.S. military aircraft or vessels carrying nuclear weapons.

The move could pave the way for the new DPJ-led government to issue a statement officially admitting the existence of the secret pacts, reversing the earlier government and ministry stance of denial.

A panel consisting of experts is planned to be launched in about a month and the investigation is expected to include hearings with people who served as senior foreign ministry officials and inquiries in the United States, Okada said.

Okada also said that he would like to inform Washington that Japan has started such an investigation in talks with his U.S. counterpart likely to be arranged next week during his trip to the United States.

Under the alleged secret nuclear deal, which the two countries purportedly agreed on in revising the Japan-U.S. security treaty, Tokyo would give tacit approval for stopovers by U.S. military aircraft or vessels carrying nuclear weapons, although the treaty stipulates the need for Washington to hold prior consultations with Tokyo before bringing nuclear weapons into Japan.

The issue is a sensitive one for Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attacks. It claims to have maintained since 1967 the three principles of not possessing, producing or permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan.

In a separate press conference, Okada also said the new government is considering demanding that North Korea reinvestigate the issue of its past abductions of Japanese nationals based on a bilateral working-level agreement reached last year.

(Distributed by Kyodo News on Sept. 17, 2009)