Only two days after the conclusion of an historic meeting in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, officials in Moscow and Tokyo yesterday began to bicker over precisely what the two leaders had agreed upon. The November 1-2 meeting had produced a series of preliminary accords aimed at expanding trade and economic ties between the two countries, a goal long sought by Moscow. It also produced a political pledge, of a type long sought by Tokyo, that the two countries would seek by the end of this century to reach agreement on a peace treaty that would fully normalize bilateral relations. (See Monitor, November 5)
But the Kuril Islands territorial dispute has been the major obstacle to improved Russian-Japanese economic relations as well as to progress on a peace treaty, and Hashimoto yesterday publicly denied Russian press reports suggesting that Tokyo had agreed in Krasnoyarsk to decouple the peace treaty from the territorial issue. In remarks to reporters the Japanese leader insisted that, in accordance with the 1993 Tokyo Declaration, resolution of the territorial issue must precede the conclusion of a peace treaty. A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman reiterated that point. He told the press that the Yeltsin-Hashimoto agreement reached in Krasnoyarsk had made it "very clear" that the endeavor to conclude a peace treaty would be based on the 1993 Declaration, which, he said, leaves no doubt that the territorial issue must be resolved before conclusion of a treaty. "We naturally assume that we resolve these territorial issues in order to conclude a peace treaty," he added.
Yesterday’s note of dissonance, which also included a denial by Russia’s Foreign Ministry that Yeltsin and Hashimoto had "bitterly debated" the time horizon for peace treaty negotiations, follows several days in which officials and press reports in both countries were virtually unanimous in applauding the November 1-2 meeting and in claiming that it had far exceeded the expectations of both sides. Russian sources tended to emphasize the importance of the trust and friendship that had been established between Yeltsin and Hashimoto, while the Japanese side hailed progress on the political issue. (Itar-Tass, Kyodo, November 3-4; UPI, November 3)
The extent to which the preliminary agreements reached in Krasnoyarsk can be actualized will become clearer in the weeks and months to come. Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov is to visit Tokyo later this month with that goal in mind, while another informal meeting between Yeltsin and Hashimoto is scheduled for the spring. In the meantime, Yeltsin is unlikely to find much public support in Russia for concessions to Japan on the territorial issue, and pressure from Tokyo for progress in that area could undermine amity on other issues. The potential for discord over the Russian-controlled islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan, was underscored again yesterday when local authorities in Russia’s Sakhalin region unveiled a monument to commemorate what was said to be the 300th anniversary of the discovery of the southern Kuril Islands by Russian explorers. Japan’s consulate-general in Khabarovsk expressed "perplexity" over the ceremony and called it "an insult to the national feelings of the Japanese." (Itar-Tass, November 4)
Yeltsin Delays Final Decision on Burial of Russia’s Last Tsar.