Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone told Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger on Saturday that he will carefully study a report by a government-private industry mission now visiting the United States before deciding whether Japan will take part in research under President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative.
Nakasone, who leaves next Saturday to visit Washington, offered no hint about when a Japanese decision will be made.
In an attempt to avoid an impression of pressuring Japan to participate in the space-based strategic missile defense plan, popularly known as "Star Wars," Weinberger waited for Nakasone to bring up the subject. He said only that the United States would welcome Japan's participation in whatever form it might choose.
Later, in a speech at the Japan National Press Club, Weinberger declared that "there are few opportunities for deterring Soviet power more promising that combining Japanese and U.S. technological capabilities."
He revealed that the first transfer to the United States of military technology owned by the Japanese government "has recently been virtually approved," three years after Nakasone exempted the United States from a blanket ban on exports of Japanese weaponry and military technology. Weinberger, however, did not disclose what the technology transfer will involve except to indicate that it has nothing to do with "Star Wars."
Noting that the United States has provided Japan with military technology since 1967, the defense secretary said he hopes that the pending Japanese transfer will be "the beginning of a heavily traveled two-way street" not only between the two governments but also between Japanese and American industry.
Just Short of Support
The sending of the 55-member Japanese mission to the United States a week ago was widely interpreted here as a move to lay the foundation for a decision to join "Stars Wars" research, with an announcement to be timed to precede or coincide with the May 4-6 economic summit meeting here of the world's major industrial democracies. So far, Nakasone has offered only an expression of "understanding"--one step short of "support"--for the research.
Confessing that economic friction with the United States, with which Japan enjoyed a $49.7-billion trade surplus last year, were giving him "a headache," Nakasone appealed to Weinberger to avoid mixing trade and defense issues. Weinberger agreed, saying that "applying pressure on defense issues cannot improve trade relations and will only leave a scar on the U.S.-Japan security relationship."
In his speech, Weinberger declared that "the Japan-U.S. alliance is obviously emerging as a strategic factor of major importance, particularly because of Japan's economic and technological prowess and its geographic position flanking Soviet Far Eastern air and naval bases," and added:
"I am confident that Japan and the United States can manage our differences over trade."
He also reassured Japan that the United States will sign no intermediate-range nuclear forces agreement with the Soviet Union that would permit the Soviet Union to keep SS-20 missiles aimed at American allies in Asia.
In a two-hour conversation with Defense Agency Director Koichi Kato, Weinberger dismissed Soviet proposals for arms reductions as "mere propaganda," Japanese officials said. The Soviets are building up their offensive military power worldwide, "with the bulk of that power being added in the Pacific," U.S. officials quoted Weinberger as saying.
"Only the most stubborn apologist for the Soviet Union could fail to acknowledge that Moscow long ago abandoned a defensive strategy," Weinberger said later in his speech. No "gap in perception" of the Soviet threat exists between Japan and the United States, Kato told Weinberger.
For the first time, Weinberger revealed in his speech that the Soviets had deployed 152-millimeter "atomic cannons," capable of hitting targets as far away as 18 miles, on Sakhalin Island, north of Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido, which Weinberger visited Friday. U.S. officials said eight cannons have been detected and added that they expect the Soviets to deploy "more than 30 eventually" in locations close to one of Japan's international straits through which Soviet ships must pass to enter the Pacific Ocean.
Last summer, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling upon Japan to step up its defense spending while Kato was visiting Washington, but on Saturday, Weinberger told his counterpart that he "highly evaluated" continued increases in Japan's defense spending at a time when all other Western Alliance countries, including the United States, are cutting their defense budgets.