Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin suggested yesterday that President Boris Yeltsin is still planning an official visit to Japan later this year. Rakhmanin said that a visit to Tokyo by Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, scheduled to start on February 20, is intended, in part, to prepare for Yeltsin’s trip. Rakhmanin provided no details as to when the ailing Russian president’s trip might be scheduled (AP, Itar-Tass, February 16).
Reports earlier this year had suggested that the visit is to occur in the first half of 1999. Following Yeltsin’s surprise visit to Jordan last week, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi reportedly conveyed an invitation to Yeltsin to visit Japan in April (Itar-Tass, February 9).
From the Japanese perspective, the visit is a key one. Tokyo would like to see negotiations on a peace treaty and on the Kuril Islands territorial issue progress as far as possible before Russia’s parliamentary and presidential election campaigns begin later this year. Any hopes that Yeltsin might emerge from his recent infirmities to energize the negotiation process seem likely to be frustrated however. The ailing Russian president managed to meet briefly with Obuchi during the last Russian-Japanese summit in November, but Yeltsin was clearly in no shape to play a major role in the talks.
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