Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 91

A Japanese newspaper on May 10 reported what it said were new details about a peace treaty proposal made by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto during his April 18-19 summit meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. In the immediate aftermath of the summit, Japanese newspapers had said that the proposal involved a redrawing of the Russian-Japanese border to a point north of the four disputed South Kuril Islands. That would have signified a return of the four islands to Japan–following an unspecified transition period during which Russia would maintain administrative control of the islands.

Japan’s Mainichi newspaper said, however, on May 10 that Hashimoto had actually proposed a redrawing of the border north of only the three southernmost islands. The most northern of the four–Iturup–was apparently not mentioned in the proposal. Russian and Japanese sources speculated that Hashimoto intended that its status be discussed later, separately from the currently ongoing peace treaty negotiations. The Japanese side was said to have left Iturup out of the proposed agreement both because it is the largest of the disputed islands, in terms both of area and population, and because sentiments on the island are said to be strongly against any transfer to Japan. (Itar-Tass, AP, May 10)

If this latest report is true, it would signify some flexibility on the Japanese side with regard to the territorial issue. Tokyo has heretofore insisted on the return of all four disputed islands. It has appeared to make the return a condition for agreement with Russia on a peace treaty formally ending the war. For all of that, there is no indication that Moscow sees any reason to make any territorial concessions to Japan. The Hashimoto proposal is therefore unlikely to break the impasse over the islands. Neither is it likely to ensure that the two sides will be able to reach agreement on a peace treaty by the year 2000. Hashimoto and Yeltsin had set that as their goal during their first informal summit last November in Krasnoyarsk.