Publication: Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 25

Against this background, and given that both sides have in general tried to keep secret their negotiations on the territorial row, it was perhaps no surprise that Japanese and Russian reports were not particularly clear or consistent in their descriptions of the weekend’s talks. All appeared to agree, however, that there was little or no progress on the territorial issue. At present, Russia is believed to have put on the table a proposal by which it would agree to return two of the four disputed islands–the smaller and less significant Shikotan and Habomai–while incurring no obligation to return or even negotiate the return to Japan of the remaining two islands–Kunashir and Iturup. Tokyo, on the other hand, has continued to demand the return of all four islands, but has waffled with the changing foreign and prime ministers over the extent to which the two sets of islands might be considered as separate issues in the ongoing negotiations. Now former Japanese Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka has reportedly pushed a more hardline position than her predecessor had, one that downplayed the distinction between the two sets of islands and demanded instead that Russia recognize Japanese sovereignty over all four islands. Newly appointed Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi appears to have enunciated a similar general goal during her talks this past weekend with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, but at the same time to have allowed for more flexibility in related negotiations.

Aside from assuming a broader commitment to continue negotiations on the peace treaty and territorial issues, the primary result of the weekend’s talks appears to have been a specific decision to schedule the next round of talks–ones that will be headed by deputy foreign ministers on both sides–in mid-March. But Japanese sources indicated that the talks are expected to be difficult and suggested that they are likely to last well into the future. The Russian side, meanwhile, appears to have spent the weekend urging that the importance of the territorial issue be downgraded, and that the two sides focus their attentions instead on other issues and other areas of potential cooperation. But the call to focus on improving economic and trade interaction has long been an element in Moscow’s negotiating position, and the fact that Moscow turned to it again this past weekend only underscores how little the two sides have progressed in their negotiations on the territorial issue over the past year or two.

The two sides did, however, manage to reach two other agreements this past weekend. One involved a commitment by Koizumi to visit Russia sometime later this year for summit talks with President Vladimir Putin. But the fact that officials did not name even a tentative date for the meeting suggests just how far apart their positions on the territorial row may be right now. The failure to name a date may also reflect a recognition of Koizumi’s increasingly uncertain political future. The other agreement reached this weekend involved the signing of a Russian-Japanese joint statement on battling international terrorism. Under the terms of this agreement, the two countries will cooperate in criminal investigations into terrorist activities. They will also share intelligence in this area and cooperate in cutting off funding sources to terrorist groups (Mainichi Shimbun, Strana.ru, RTR, Kommersant, February 2; Japan Times, February 3; AFP, February 2-3; Interfax, February 4).