Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 171

Japan’s recently reshuffled government suggested late last week that it foresees upcoming talks between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto as a real opportunity to boost long-stagnant Russian-Japanese relations. In remarks made on September 12, Hashimoto restated Japan’s recently reformulated diplomatic approach to Russia, saying that he intended during the meeting with Yeltsin "to lay the basis for progress" by emphasizing long-term relations on the basis of trust and mutual respect. (Itar-Tass, September 12) Hashimoto originally unveiled Tokyo’s "new course" toward Russia in a speech on July 24 when he declared to a gathering of business leaders that Japan’s approach to relations with Russia would henceforth be governed by three principles: trust, mutual benefit, and a long-term point of view. (See Monitor, July 25) The informal talks with Yeltsin — the first of their kind between the two leaders — are to be held on November 1-2 in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.

Preparations for the November talks will be handled, on the Japanese side, by Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi, who was named to his post on September 11. Russia welcomed the appointment, and the Japanese government reshuffle in general. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement added that Hashimoto’s continued leadership "will have a positive impact on Russo-Japanese dialogue and we are pinning high hopes on the upcoming summit meeting." In Tokyo, meanwhile, Obuchi was quoted as saying that he would do his best to ensure that Russia and Japan conclude a peace treaty before the turn of the century. (Kyodo, September 11-12) According to a Russian news report, Obuchi also said that Tokyo would not let the Kuril Island territorial dispute — the main stumbling block to the signing of a peace treaty — stop Japan from assisting Russia in carrying out its reforms. (Itar-Tass, September 12)

Prior to Hashimoto’s July 24 policy speech, Japanese leaders had in large part held economic aid to Moscow, as well as increased economic cooperation, hostage to progress on the territorial issue. Tokyo appears now to have moved closer to the long-standing Russian position of encouraging improvements more broadly in relations between the two countries as a means ultimately of establishing the trust necessary to resolve the territorial issue. Obuchi is to meet with Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov in New York in September.

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