Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 168

Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura has proposed to his newly named Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, that the two hold talks during the UN General Assembly session scheduled for later this month in New York. The message from Komura came in a letter congratulating Ivanov for his appointment to the Foreign Ministry post. Komura had been scheduled to visit Moscow for talks with then Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov on September 13. But he postponed the visit on a request from Russia following Primakov’s surprise nomination as prime minister and the subsequent naming of Ivanov to succeed Primakov as foreign minister

Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Minoru Tamba, meanwhile, is scheduled to arrive in Moscow today for several days of talks with Russian officials. Those consultations are aimed at coordinating a series of high-level contacts between Russian and Japanese government officials, including the rescheduling of Komura’s visit to Russia. Tamba’s and Komura’s visits are expected to pave the way for a late fall visit to Moscow by Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. That visit, tentatively scheduled for November, would mark the first time in some twenty-five years that a Japanese head of government had visited Russia (Itar-Tass, September 14).

Obuchi’s visit to Russia will actually continue a series of summit meetings–this will be the third–between Russian and Japanese leaders launched late last year by then Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The first of those meetings took place in Krasnoyarsk in November of last year. The second was held in the Japanese seaside resort of Kawana this past April. Yeltsin and Hashimoto were seeking to fully normalize relations, by the year 2000, between Russia and Japan by drafting a peace treaty to formally end World War II. The two men also sought to resolve the main obstacle to improved bilateral relations since the close of World War II–their territorial row over the disputed south Kuril Islands.

Some in Moscow and Tokyo have feared that those efforts might have suffered a setback with the recent ouster of Hashimoto from the Japanese Prime Minister post and his replacement by Obuchi, a former Foreign Minister. Both countries have, however, reiterated their determination to maintain diplomatic momentum and, with that goal in mind, Hashimoto is himself scheduled to visit Moscow on September 16-19 as a guest of Boris Yeltsin. (Itar-Tass, September 14) The diplomatic task confronting Japanese and Russian political leaders has nevertheless been complicated by continuing economic and political turmoil in both countries. Most recently the Japanese government has had to struggle, as have governments in the West, with the question of how best to use the promise of economic aid to move Russia in the direction of continued economic reform (see the Monitor, September 1).