US warheads provide ammunition for Japan's left

"Oppose port call by the Midway!" shouted the girl in blue jeans and baseball cap clenching her fist. "Oppose port call by the Midway!" dutifully chorused after her the five or six young people with her, holding aloft banners opposing "American imperialism" and "Japanese collusion with American nuclear strategy."

The tiny band outside the closed iron gates of the US Embassy compound were almost entirely surrounded by riot policed in with truncheons and shields. Passersby looked curiously at the little group and at reporters taking notes while the busy traffic of the surrounding streets flowed by unimpeded.

A decade or so ago, groups such as this could immobilize thousands of students armed with staves and colorful helmets to fight for a variety of leftist causes, from opposing port calls by nuclear-armed United States warships to the building of Narita airport (they claimed it had a military as well as a civilian purpose).

Today, the Socialists and other leftist groups are trying to whip up popular enthusiasm for a new round of anti-American demonstrations arising out of former Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer's disclosure that nuclear-armed American warships been visiting Japanese ports for 20 years without bothering to divest themselves of their nuclear warheads. Most political analysts believe these efforts will fizzle as long as the Japanese and US governments refuse to be dislodged from what can be described only as a firm posture of calculated ambiguity.

The policy of the United States government has been neither to confirm or deny presence or absence of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world," says Ambassador Mike Mansfield, reading from a piece of paper he takes out of his shirt pocket whenever he is asked that question.

Meanwhile Japanese Premier Zenko Suzuki repeats Tokyo's longstanding three principles: not to make, possess, or allow the introduction of nuclear weapons.

Do nuclear arms on American warships visiting Japanese ports constitute "introduction"? Tokyo says "yes." Officially, Washington is silent. The Japanese stand is that Washington knows and respects Japan's position and that Japan has no need to check to see whether American warships do or do not carry nuclear weapons when visiting Japanese ports or transiting Japanese waters.

The case of the Midway is somewhat different. The 55,000-ton aircraft carrier belongs to the Seventh Fleet, and Yokosuka, Japan, is its home port. Last year, when the ship returned from a long mission to the Indian Ocean during the tension over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Mayor Kazuo Yokoyama welcomed the crew with flowers.

This time, the mayor, who faces an election, has tried to get the return postponed because of "anxiety and suspicion" among his fellow citizens that the ship is carrying nuclear arms.

Some government officials are said to agree with the mayor, feeling that to allow the Midway to return here the first week of June, as originally planned, might focus renewed public attention on the nuclear issue. Others say that there would be a real rift in Japanese-American relations if the government were to ask, however informally, that the Midway stay away from its own home port.

The cancellation of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig's visit to Japan (originally scheduled for mid-June, although never formally announced) is sign enough that all is not well in Japanese-American relations. Although the primary fallout from Mr. Reischauer's disclosures has been domestic, the potential for frustration and resentment in transpacific ties remains.

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