Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 137

Diplomatic maneuvering intensified this week over the manner in which key international issues are to be dealt with at next week’s summit of Group of Seven countries plus Russia in Okinawa, Japan. During preparatory talks in Miyazaki, Japan, on July 12-13, foreign envoys from the eight countries involved–the United states, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Russia–sparred over Korean security issues as well as Yugoslavia, U.S. missile defense plans and Chechnya.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, made it clear in a June 11 interview that he expects the summit to be a coming-out party of sorts for Russia, one in which Moscow will become a full-fledged member of the group and all its discussions rather than continue to be treated as a supplicant seeking financial aid (Reuters, AP, July 12). Putin knows that he will arrive in Okinawa prepared to play–by Russian standards–a strong diplomatic hand: He will travel to Beijing and make an unprecedented visit to North Korea just prior to the summit. He can also be counted on to exploit concerns among several of the G-7 countries over U.S. missile defense plans and their possible impact on international security.

Continuing differences between Moscow and Washington on this and several other issues were evident during the ministers’ meeting in Miyazaki, with various other G-7 countries choosing sides. Russia, for example, apparently found itself in the minority on discussions related to recent political developments in Yugoslavia. Where the United States was pushing for a strong statement condemning constitutional changes enacted which will allow President Slobodan Milosevic to extend his hold on power in Yugoslavia, Moscow continued its efforts to shield the Belgrade regime from international criticism. They saw some success, ensuring, as Russian diplomats have in so many other international forums, that the final statement produced in Miyazaki was watered down. In the end, the ministers went no farther than to express their “concern” about political developments in Yugoslavia.

The United States, on the other hand, appeared to find itself on the short end of discussions related to ballistic missile defense and U.S. plans for a limited national missile defense system. The issue seems not to have been a major focus of discussion in Miyazaki, but the foreign ministers of France and Germany apparently did join Russia yesterday in raising objections to U.S. missile defense plans. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov was quoted as saying that the American defense system opens the door to a new arms race, while French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine joined his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, in urging the United States to proceed with missile defense in a fashion which would not contradict existing arms control treaties. This is also Moscow’s position. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, who was filling in for U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, argued that Washington would proceed with missile defense with the goal of maintaining global stability.

Reports on the eve of the Miyazaki meeting had suggested that the G-8 envoys would avoid such contentious security issues (related to the Korean Peninsula) as the North’s missile program and the question of a continued American military presence in the South. That seems to have been largely the case, as the ministers applauded both last month’s summit meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea and “the recent steps taken by North Korea toward reunification as a major contribution to stability. That statement also urged Pyongyang to take a “constructive response to international concerns over security, nonproliferation, humanitarian and human rights issues.” This relatively bland approach to recent developments was reportedly adopted out of a concern that a more contentious stance might upset the still-fragile process of reconciliation which has recently blossomed between the two Koreas.

The Korean peninsula is nonetheless a part of the world in which a group of key security issues intersect, and it seems sure to be an area in which geopolitical competition between Moscow and Washington will be played out in the months to come. That underlying tension was in evidence in Miyazaki when Talbott used a concluding press conference to highlight again Washington’s contention that “the North Korea missile threat is a reality, a reality particularly palpable to host Japan” (Reuters, July 10-13; AFP, AP, Itar-Tass, July 12).

Talbott’s remark, moreover, came as a top Russian diplomat, writing in a Moscow daily, made very explicit the Kremlin’s determination to challenge U.S. policy vis-a-vis the Koreas. According to news agency reports, Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov, who is responsible for Russian policy in the Asia-Pacific region, sharply criticized recent assertions by Washington and Seoul that the United States is likely to maintain its troops in South Korea even after a possible Korean reunification. Losyukov questioned how Washington could justify a continued troops’ presence under such circumstances. He also repeated Russian criticism of the notion that North Korea represents a missile threat to the United States and thus a justification for Washington’s plans to deploy a limited national missile defense (Russian agencies, July 13). Losyukov’s remarks appeared only to underscore that Korean security issues and U.S. missile defense plans will be on the agenda during bilateral talks between the Russian and U.S. presidents next week in Japan, even if the issues do not receive full treatment during the formal summit.

Meanwhile, there was a suggestion in Miyazaki this week that France may move at next week’s summit to improve its currently chilly relations with Moscow. During a meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Yohei Kono on July 11 which preceded the two-day ministers meeting, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine reportedly urged that the West take a different–and apparently more accommodating–position toward both relations with Russia and the Kremlin’s economic and political reform policies (AFP, July 12). Relations between Paris and Putin’s Russia have been strained due to French criticism of the Chechen war. On the other hand, Paris and Moscow share some common ground, both in their opposition to U.S. global domination, and in their view of the role of the state. Reports currently suggest that Putin and French President Jacques Chirac will not hold bilateral talks during next week’s summit (Washington Post, July 13). A change in that itinerary may suggest that Paris wants to build on those sorts of commonalties and hopes to mend fences with Moscow.