Japanese Foreign Minister Massayoshi Ito announced today that he has resigned because of a controversy over the handling of Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki's visit to the United States last week.
Ito, at a hastily called news conference this afternoon, said he had submitted his resignation in writing to the prime minister last night. His top aide, Vice Minister Masuo Takashima, also submitted his resignation. Kyodo News Service reported today that the prime minister has accepted the resignations.
Ito and the Foreign Ministry have been a target of criticism from the prime minister's office, which felt that a communique issued after visits with President Reagan did not accurately reflect Suzuki's views on the question of defense and the American alliance
Ito gave no detailed explanation and merely noted that there had been "troubles about the manner in which the joint communique was issued."
The wording of the communique had appeared to commit Japan to a greater defense role and had used the word "alliance," which critics have charged had major military connotations.
Suzuki subsequently has denied promising any new defense measures. In several meetings this week with Cabinet members, the prime minister angrily let it be known that he blamed the Foreign Ministry for agreeing to language in the communique that he could not accept.
Specifically, Suzuki has said that the views he expressed to Reagan on the second day of their meetings were not reflected in the joint communique. At that meeting, suzuki said he told Reagan that Japan is limited in its defense capability because of fiscal restraints and public opinion hostile to any major military buildup.
Japan's opposition parties, particularly the Socialist Party, have denounced the suzuki visit sharply, saying it showed that the Japanese prime minister was giving in to American demands for a greater defense role in the Pacific. Some elements of the daily press also have been sharply critical.
Suzuki had assailed the Foreign Ministry during an unusually argumentative Cabinet meeting yesterday, but there had been no indications that a resignation would be submitted.
The prime minister was supported in his criticism by some other ministers who blamed Ito for sloppy handling of the communique. They contended that bureaucrats in the Foreign Ministry had drafted the language and merely handled it to Suzuki as an accomplished fact.
It was the first controversy to surface in such force in Suzuki's government since he took office last summer, succeeding the late Massyoshi Ohira, who died of a heart attack. Ito had been a close ally of Ohira and had been brought into Suzuki's Cabinet largely to demonstrate a continuatin of Ohira's pro-American foreign policy.
However, rumblings of discontent had surfaced a few weeks ago over the government's handling of another American issue--the question of restricting automobile exports to the United States as requested by the Reagan administration.
Suzuki had permitted the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to handle those negotiations, despite the disapproval of Ito, who felt that the Foreign Ministry should have taken the lead.
The controversy surrounding the Washington communique had been simmering here all week, with criticism centered on the word "alliance." Suzuki publicly denied that the word had any military connotations. He was undercut, however, when an unidentified government source, probably in the Foreign Ministry, told Japanese reporters that the word "alliance" did have military implications because of the U.S.--Japanese mutual security treaty. In Japan, the word "alliance" is a kind of code word usually referring to military cooperation with other countries.
The government tried to work itself free of the semantic tangle Friday by issuing a statement that said Suzuki's visit to Washington had not added new military commitments to the alliance that has existed since the mutual security treaty was signed in the 1950s.