Japan is deeply unhappy about the removal of the US grain embargo against the Soviet Union, particularly at a time when the Polish situation remains uncertain.
In an interview April 28, Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki was surprisingly outspoken in expressing his "perplexity" at the move, as well as the Reagan administration's failure to seek the views of Japan and other Western countries who had cooperated in the US sanctions "sincerely and steadfastly."
Other key points from the one-hour interview, given only a few days before the prime minister leaves for a summit conference with President Reagan in Washington were:
* Despite American unhappiness, the Japanese government intends to proceed with a limited buildup of its defense forces based on an outline program decided in 1976.
* The automobile trade dispute will be solved before the Suzuki-Reagan meetings on May 7 and 8. Although Japan basically regards the issue a US domestic problem, it intends to cooperate with the Reagan administration from a wider interest of promoting free trade.
Mr. Suzuki said the lifting of the US grain embargo against the Soviet Union, imposed for its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, had been a campaign pledge of presidential candidate Reagan.
"So I was prepared for it sooner or later, when conditions were sufficiently relaxed.
"But coming as it did, at such a time when uncertainties and anxieties continue to exist over the Polish situation, the timing was unexpected . . . leaving me somewhat perplexed."
The prime minister said Japan had been advised of the administration's decision the day before the public announcement.
"But we were not consulted sufficiently in advance, or asked our views about the timing, or given any explanation as to the reason. there was no move to coordinate with any action Japan might take on economic sanctions," he said.
In fact, government sources say Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ito, while visiting Washington in March, had pleaded strongly with administration officials against removal of the grain embargo.
Prime Minister Suzuki said that from the point of view of Japan and the other nations which had cooperated with the US in economic sanctions "sincerely and steadfastly," the time would appear to have come "for us to reexamine our stance so as to be more in line with the way the United States has acted."
Much of the interview, however, concerned Japan's defense program, which is expected to be the most important issue on the agenda of the Washington talks, as well as in parallel meetings between Japanese and US government officials.
Mr. Suzuki continually referred to the constitutional restraints which permit Japan to possess only sufficient forces for self-defense as well as restricting the field of their operation to Japanese territory and "peripheral waters."
Japan wished to maintain its security treaty with the United States as the pillar of its defense, while developing its own capacity to protect itself against small-scale, limited aggression from outside, he asserted.
For a major invasion backed by a nuclear arsenal, the Japanese would rely on the immediate and smooth implementation of the security treaty.
"We will defend our land and peripheral sea area without excessive dependence on the United States," he said, but any moves beyond that were not permitted under the present constitution.
Therefore, Japan would not make any move to fill the void in the Pacific left by the US Seventh Fleet moving to the Indian Ocean or the Persian Gulf, he said firmly.
Recent messages from Washington have indicated the Reagan administration would like Japan to take over antisubmarine patrolling responsibility for a large swath of ocean stretching to Guam and the Philippines.
Defense agency sources here have said such a concept is not strictly against the Constitution, but Mr. Suzuki's statement would seem to indicate the Tokyo government does not think the time is ripe for such a move.
The prime minister said he would go to Washington to explain in clearest terms to the Reagan administration what Japan can and cannot do in the defense sphere.
He wants to talk about defense in philosophical terms rather than haggling over figures. But there is strong expectation here that the prime minister will be subject to searching questions on his government's plan to complete by 1987 a military buildup program first decided on in 1976 which some US officials apparently believe is outdated in view of the Soviet Union's drastically increased military presence in the Far East, including bases on northern islands seized from Japan at the end of World War II.
The 1976 outline provides for target force levels, among others, of an army of 180,000 men, deployment of 16 submarines and 60 destroyers, and almost 700 aircraft divided between the navy and air force.
Japan's Washington ambassador Yoshio Okawar, returning briefly to Tokyo, warned Mr. Suzuki April 27 that the US government wants this outline completed long before the proposed 1987 deadline and would even prefer it to be totally reassessed.
In fact, the government is divided on the issue. The Finance Ministry, for example, is unhappy on the grounds of the extra expense.
And comments after a Cabinet meeting April 28 indicate that the 1987 deadline is merely for the ordering of the necessary equipment, not its deployment -- a fresh cause for American unhappiness.
The prime minister, however, said there had been no specific request for Japan to do any more. Specifically, he said, Japan had not been asked to contribute either men or financial support to the US-proposed Rapid Deployment Force for protecting Persian Gulf oilfields, and would not do so even if requested.
Japan's contribution to international peace and security, he said, would be restricted to increased economic aid to developing countries, enabling them to withstand external threats and internal destabilizing factors.
On the auto trade dispute, the prime minister expressed confidence there would be a "happy ending" long before he arrived in Washington.
The government is now working out final details of an export self-restraint program, which will be discussed with US chief trade negotiator William Brock, who was due in Tokyo today.
Indications now are that shipments this year will be scaled down to levels satisfactory to the US.
In fact, auto industry sources here say exports currently are running at a much reduced level that would amount to an annual figure of only 1.5 million -- below what even the most pro-Detroit members of Congress are seeking.
Mr. Suzuki said he regarded the auto problem as basically one to be solved purely by the US government and industry.
But Japan was ready to recognize the great importance of the auto industry to the US economy and had to be understanding and sympathetic to the plight of the large number of unemployed in Detroit.
The problem, however, was that if export self-restraint went on too long, the Japanese industry, and particularly its small subcontractors, would suffer -- "making the necessary adjustments rather complicated."
Still, Mr. Suzuki added, it was his government's firm desire to cooperate fully with the US in the overall interests of the close bilateral relationship and the cause of maintaining and developing free trade.