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TOKYO - Details of secret agreements between Japan and the U.S. concerning deployment of nuclear weapons in Japanese territorial waters or over its air space have been tumbling out almost daily, embarrassing the former rulers and adding an additional strain to an alliance already weakened by disputes over basing issues.

The previous administration led by the Liberal Democratic Party, which governed Japan virtually without interruption for more than 50 years up to and including the last LDP premier Taro Aso, steadfastly denied that any such agreement existed, even as former administrative vice ministers (the top civil servants) came forth from retirement to assert that they did exist.

The new government headed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which won an overwhelming election last summer and formed a government in September, early on promised to shed light on this issue. This week, a special panel of government officials and historians issued its findings.

The Foreign Ministry panel disclosed the existence of three secret pacts. One permitted the U.S. to introduce nuclear weapons aboard naval vessels without prior consultation with Tokyo. Another permitted unrestricted use of American bases in Japan should a conflict arise in Korea. A third permitted re-introduction of nuclear weapons to Okinawa in the event of an emergency.

These secret agreements were related to the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security (the foundation of the U.S. Japan defense alliance), which was signed 50 years ago this year. The terms of the agreement call on the U.S. to defend Japan, using nuclear weapons if necessary, if attacked. Tokyo in return provides Americans with bases.

Fifty years after the signing, The U.S. still maintains 86 facilities on Japanese soil housing 44,850 uniformed personnel. About 75 percent of these troops are based on the southern island of Okinawa, which has long been a bone of contention with local residents.

During the Cold War, U.S. naval vessels, including those permanently based at two main ports, Sasebo and Yokosuka, routinely carried nuclear weapons on board. Tactical nuclear weapons delivered by fighter-bombers were stored at American bases in South Korea. Additionally, nuclear weapons were deployed on Okinawa, then administered by the U.S.

In a recent article in Foreign Affairs, John Packard, the President of the U.S.-Japan Foundation and a former aide to Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer in the 1960s, wrote: "Until it reverted to Japan in 1972, the U.S. military treated the place [Okinawa] with a free hand often defying the wishes of both the Japanese government and the U.S. State Department." He went on to mention an incident in 1966 when, he says, the U.S. transported nuclear weapons from Okinawa to mainland Japan in flagrant violation of the 1960 agreement. He did not elaborate.

In 1991 former President George H.W. Bush ordered the removal of tactical nuclear weapons from U.S. naval ships (not counting ballistic missile submarines, which do not call on Japanese ports), and from South Korea. These weapons had been removed earlier from Okinawa after its return to Japanese sovereignty in 1972.

That American warships, especially aircraft carriers, routinely carried nuclear weapons into Japanese waters was, in fact, never a real secret. It was common for anti-nuclear activists to protest the arrival of these ships. Washington neither confirmed nor denied the presence of such weapons; Tokyo said nothing.

Former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato first enunciated what are known as the "Three No's" regarding nuclear weapons in 1967. The No's are 1. never to possess, 2. never manufacture and 3. never allow nuclear weapons to be admitted into Japan. For this he received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1974. Some argue that it should be considered the two and a half No's.

The panel said that the prime ministers who followed Sato in this period, including Kakuei Tanaka, Yasuhiro Nakasone and right through Toshiki Kaifu in 1989 were briefed by civil servants on the contents of thee pacts. It is unclear if later PMs were also briefed considering that the weapons were removed, but they clearly did not delve deeply into the matter.

If these secret pacts had been revealed earlier, especially during the Cold War, it would probably have sent demonstrators out into the streets. Now they cause barely a ripple. For one thing, the public had been primed by revelations of former civil servants. Indeed, Washington declassified and published the documents from its side years ago.

Some conservative may see the revelations as further evidence that the new DPJ government is anti-American. Washington already believes that Hatoyama's commitment to the alliance is only lukewarm, despite protestations of its importance. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said it had nothing to do with the alliance and everything to do with the commitment to open government.

More secrets have been tumbling out, especially regarding the return of Okinawa. Last week Finance Minister Naoto Kan said, "I have confirmed the existence of [secret] an interest-free bank account in the U.S." It presumably held some funds connected with the reversion of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty in 1970.

Many critics of the former government have long believed that Tokyo vastly under-reported the amount of money that Japan contributed to help turn some former American bases and installations on Okinawa to return the lands to their original state. The secret account merely reaffirms that the public was never given the whole story.

Okinawa of course, is at the focus of the dispute between Tokyo and Washington over basing issues, and any new revelations concerning the terms of the island's return to Japanese sovereignty merely add fuel to the public sentiments among islanders that is hardening against the continued U.S. military presence on that island.

Washington negotiated a deal with the former government to lighten the burden by moving 8,000 Marines to Guam (partly paid for by Japan) and closing the obsolete Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma, now virtually surrounded by the city of Ginowan and building a new base (also at Japanese expense) in the Okinawan city of Nago.

The new administration under Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, citing election pledges, balked at immediately implementing the agreement. To Washington's dismay, it seemed to want to reopen the whole question and move the Marine Air Station out of Okinawa. Hatoyama has promised to resolve this issue by the end of May.

Meanwhile, the administration of President Barack Obama is in the middle of reviewing its basic policy on nuclear weapons and "extended deterrence," the euphemism for defending Japan against attack with nuclear weapons.

Recently, a review panel recommended that the nuclear warheads for the Tomahawk cruise missile be retired. The previous Japanese government had argued strenuously against such a move as weakening the "extended nuclear deterrence."

Washington counters that strategic nuclear war heads carried aboard Trident submarines plus nuclear weapons from B-52 or B-2 bombers based on Guam can provide sufficient fire power to maintain the "nuclear umbrella."The new government's position on the Tomahawk retirement is not known.