Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 155

In what may have been the first sign of a compromise by either of the sides with regard to the two incompatible Kuril Island proposals, Japanese sources intimated earlier this week that Tokyo may now be considering the possibility of concluding the peace treaty with Russia by the year 2000 while postponing the territorial issue. The Japanese would demand a guarantee from Moscow in return, however, that Russia is prepared to settle the territorial issue within a definitively agreed-upon time frame.

But it remains to be seen whether such a scenario would in truth be acceptable to Tokyo. Reports suggest that the proposal has not won wholehearted support within the Japanese cabinet because some government members, not surprisingly, consider it to be too great a concession to Moscow. The official who first floated the proposal, Deputy Secretary General of the Japanese cabinet Muneo Suzuki, was later quoted as saying that the peace treaty agreement itself must stipulate that the four disputed islands belong to Japan (Itar-Tass, August 23-24). Such a stipulation would bring the two sides back to square zero.

Indeed, even the appearance of Suzuki’s apparent trial balloon was something of a surprise. Only a few days earlier a top Japanese diplomat had appeared to categorically rule out any “interim” peace agreement between Russia and Japan absent a resolution of the territorial dispute. Minoru Tamba, who was recently named Japan’s ambassador to Russia and had earlier overseen Russian-Japanese negotiations as a deputy foreign minister, said that Japan would make no further “concessions” beyond the terms set out in Hashimoto’s 1998 proposal. He also suggested that the government was not even considering any compromise proposals relative to settling the territorial issue. “I’m not aware of any discussions within the government over something beyond” the agreed-upon 2000 goal, he said (Kyodo, August 20). The seeming mixed signals being emitted by Tokyo suggest some indecision over how best to approach the negotiations with Moscow.