Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov’s three-nation tour of Asia, which began with his arrival in North Korea on February 9, ended with talks in Vietnam on February 13-14. No agreements had been expected during Ivanov’s visit to Hanoi, and indeed little of substance appeared to have come out of his talks there. The visit nevertheless had some symbolic importance, providing the two Soviet-era allies with an opportunity to proclaim continuing friendship and to pledge their commitment to further boosting friendly ties. Ivanov called for the two countries to once again bring their relations to the “strategic partnership” level. Further, he and his Vietnamese hosts reportedly also reemphasized their joint commitment to a “multipolar world” and–albeit not in so many words–their joint opposition to American international domination. Ivanov’s visit to Vietnam was the second for a Russian foreign minister since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, and the first since then Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev visited the country in 1995.
Although few details were available on the specifics of Ivanov’s talks in Vietnam, key topics probably included discussion of Vietnam’s Soviet-era to Moscow and Russian interest in maintaining a military presence at the former U.S. base of Cam Ranh Bay on Vietnam’s east coast. Moscow has assessed the Vietnamese debt at US$17 billion, but Hanoi has argued that the figure should be considerably lower due to ruble evaluation. With regard to the naval base, Russia’s twenty-five-year lease is set to expire in 2004. Analysts believe that Moscow would like to maintain a military presence there, albeit one limited possibly to just a listening post. Vietnam, in turn, would reportedly like to earn more hard currency from the base than it is currently getting from Moscow. The two sides were also expected to discuss trade relations, including military-technical cooperation (Reuters, December 12, 14; Russian agencies, December 12-14).
On his flight back to Moscow yesterday, Ivanov said that his visits to Pyongyang, Tokyo and Hanoi had revealed a desire by the three countries for Russia to play an active role in the region. A Russian presence, he said, would serve as a “factor for regional stability” (Russian agencies, February 14). Earlier, Ivanov had suggested that his visits to North Korea and Japan, at least, had been devoted in part to winning Moscow–and Japan–a greater role in peace talks on the Korean peninsula (Itar-Tass, February 12).
PUTIN FINALLY SPEAKS ABOUT BABITSKY.