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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 4, 2001

U.S. nuclear sub causes stir in Japan

Associated Press

TOKYO — An unannounced port call in Japan by a U.S. nuclear submarine has added to mounting mistrust of the U.S. military in this nation and is threatening to further strain already tense relations between Tokyo and Washington.

The incident, which the U.S. Navy blamed on an "administrative error," was the first-ever violation of a pact that requires U.S. military authorities to give 24-hour advance notice before the arrival of a nuclear-powered sub in a Japanese port.

Japan's Foreign Ministry said today that the United States had apologized for the incident. But an official at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, who spoke on condition of anonymity, wouldn't confirm the statement. The official said the United States regrets the miscommunication and will take steps to prevent a recurrence.

The incident came at a time when many Japanese are angry over what they perceive as the arrogance of their U.S. military allies — particularly after the accidental sinking of the Japanese fishing boat Ehime Maru by the USS Greeneville off O'ahu in February.

Akira Mitsutake, mayor of Sasebo, yesterday criticized the arrival of the USS Chicago in the southwestern port city as an "act of bad faith," while Japan's foreign minister said Japan could suspend future stopovers pending an official explanation.

"I have instructed my staff to ask the United States to clearly state why it defied previous practice and made a port call without prior notification and to confirm the cause of the incident," said Foreign Minister Yohei Kono.

The 6,200-ton Chicago entered Sasebo, 600 miles southwest of Tokyo, on Monday after U.S. military officials had told the city government that it would stop outside the port, said city spokesman Keiichi Matsuda.

That violated a 1964 bilateral accord that requires that local authorities be given 24-hour advance notice so they can check radioactivity levels before and after the visit — a concern taken very seriously in nuclear-conscious Japan.

The U.S. Navy acknowledged the violation of the accord and attributed it to "an internal administrative error." But it defended its safety record and said its ships pose no environmental hazards.

"U.S. Navy nuclear-powered ships have steamed more than 119 million miles and amassed more than 5,100 reactor-years operation without a reactor accident or any release of radioactivity that has had significant impact on the environment," it said in a statement.

Acting U.S. Ambassador Christopher LaFleur had told Japanese Foreign Ministry officials that the sub's unannounced arrival was because of a miscommunication within the U.S. Navy, said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Officials in cities that play host to the nearly 50,000 American troops stationed in this country worried about the repercussions in their communities.

Hideo Sawada, mayor of the port city of Yokosuka, said yesterday that the incident could "unnerve" Japanese living near bases.

Yokosuka, 28 miles, southwest of Tokyo, is the site of a large U.S. naval base.