The impending return to port of the U.S. aircraft carrier Midway sparked a new antinuclear controversy today, prompting Japan at one point to suggest that the ship's arrival be postponed.
The mayor of Yokosuka, the carrier's home port, presented the top U.S. Navy official in Japan with a request to delay the Midway's expected return next week, and the city made a similar appeal to the Japanese government.
The government, worried about the rising antinuclear sentiment, tentatively asked U.S. officials here if it would be possible to postpone the ship's docking, according to reliable sources.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy threw cold water on the suggestion and by the end of the day, Japanese sources said the government would not press the issue with a formal request.
But the fact that American officials were tentatively sounded out on the possibility of delaying the ship's port call was taken as a sign of the intense pressure felt by the government on the nuclear issue since the controversy erupted over U.S. ships carrying atomic weapons.
A statement by Rear Adm. Donald L. Felt, coommander of U.S. naval forces in Japan, however, expressed irritation at the Yokosuka mayor's request that the Midway stay out of port a bit longer, saying the effect on morale for 3,000 dependents would be "devastating" if the ship's return is delayed.
Publication of statements by former American officials that U.S. ships have routinely carried nuclear weapons into Japanese ports began the controversy 10 days ago, forcing the government on the defensive. Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki persistently has denied those statements.
The Midway has become the new focal point of attack by leftist and antinuclear forces, which have planned to stage a large demonstration when the ship docks at Yokosuka. It is expected on June 5, although no date has been officially announced.
The Midway carries F4, A6 and A7 fighter and attack planes that normally are believed to carry nuclear weapons. It has been away from port since Feb. 23 on deployment in the South Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
Since the controversy erupted last week, public sentiment against nuclear weapons has been noted most frequently in port cities such as Yokosuka, where ships of the U.S. 7th Fleet call frequently.
Since the controversy erupted last week, public sentiment against nuclear weapons. It said the docking would be "inappropriate" at a time when citizens have such "deep suspicions" about whether U.S. ships bring those weapons into ports or Japanese waters. Nuclear weaponry is still a sensitive topic in Japan, which was the target of two atomic bombs in World War II.
Yokoyama presented a similar appeal to the prime minister's office asking also for a clarification of whether the government still is maintaining the country's antinuclear principles.