Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 36

Tokyo and Moscow ended three years of what were at times acrimonious negotiations when Japanese Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov signed, on February 21, an agreement regulating fishing for Japanese boats in the waters off the disputed Kuril Islands. The agreement is valid for three years, though some of its provisions are to be revised annually. Talks on the fishing issue began in March 1995 and progressed through thirteen rounds. (Kyodo, Itar-Tass, February 21) On several occasions Russian border patrol vessels have fired on Japanese boats that were said to have been fishing illegally in Russian waters. Those attacks twice resulted in injuries and led to official protests by the Japanese government. (See Monitor, October 14, 1997; January 7, 1998)

The fishing agreement, which maintains the recent momentum in Japanese-Russian relations, came on the first of a three-day visit to Moscow by Obuchi. Yesterday, the Japanese foreign minister met with his Russian counterpart, Yevgeny Primakov. The two discussed the crisis in the Persian Gulf, and a number of bilateral issues, including planned contacts between military personnel. More important, the two men also met for the first time under the auspices of a joint committee tasked with drafting a Russian-Japanese peace treaty bringing a formal end to World War II. (Kyodo, Russian agencies, February 22) The commission was created last month as a follow-up to last November’s highly successful summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Russian President Boris Yeltsin. (See Monitor, November 3)

Despite the dramatic warming in Russian-Japanese relations over the past several months, the successful conclusion of a peace treaty will be no easy task. A Russian international relations expert on February 20 put his finger on the cardinal problem. Valery Zaitsev told the Japanese news agency Kyodo that Tokyo now expects Moscow to take a more flexible stance on the Kuril Islands territorial issue. But Moscow, he said, will not. Rather, the Kremlin will seek either to conclude the treaty — or at least to promote bilateral economic cooperation — while setting aside the territorial issue altogether. Neither side has discussed a compromise plan, Zaitsev added. This means that a second Yeltsin-Hashimoto summit, tentatively planned for April, is unlikely to make significant progress on the treaty. (Kyodo, February 20)

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov Reiterates Claim to Sevastopol.