Over the weekend Russia and Japan reaffirmed their intention to continue improving bilateral relations. The vagueness of the statements which followed talks in Moscow on October 17 between Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and several Russian leaders, however, suggested that the two sides had papered over some key differences. Komura, who was in Moscow for only about twenty-four hours, managed nevertheless to meet with both his Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov, and Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov. The talks with Ivanov and Primakov were reportedly devoted to ongoing efforts by the two countries to draft a peace treaty–formally ending World War II–by the year 2000. Japanese sources had indicated before Komura’s arrival that Tokyo would also raise the issue of the disputed Kuril Islands. Komura’s talks with Maslyukov were devoted primarily to economic and trade issues. The Russian first deputy prime minister was recently named to co-chair–along with Komura–a joint Japanese-Russian trade commission.
Aside from expressing their general satisfaction with the talks, the two sides did reach agreement on some scheduling for a series of high-level meetings to take place in the coming months. Those meetings are to include a November 11-13 visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg by Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, a subsequent trip to Japan by Ivanov and a November visit, also to Japan, by Russian General Staff chief Anatoly Kvashnin. Deputy foreign ministers serving on a joint commission tasked with drafting the Japanese-Russian peace treaty will convene in Tokyo on October 29-30. The joint commissions on scientific and technical cooperation–co-chaired by Maslyukov and Komura–and on law enforcement will meet in December. Primakov reportedly accepted an invitation to visit Japan, but no date has been set for his trip. Komura’s will be the first official visit to Russia by a Japanese Prime Minister since 1973.
In a joint statement released on October 17, the two sides reiterated their determination both to draft a peace treaty by 2000 and to follow through on agreements reached during two previous summit meetings between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and then Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The statement also reiterated Yeltsin’s intention to discuss with Obuchi, during their November summit, a Japanese proposal aimed at resolving the Kuril Islands territorial dispute. The proposal, made by Hashimoto in April, reportedly calls for a redrawing of the Russian-Japanese border in a fashion that would ultimately transfer the islands from Russian to Japanese control. Ivanov said that the two sides had discussed the territorial issue on October 17 “as an integral part of the peace treaty,” but suggested that Komura has not pressed Moscow for any movement on the issue. He also said that the issue “should be settled without damaging Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” (Itar-Tass, Kyodo, Xinhua, October 17).
…BUT TERRITORIAL DISPUTE REMAINS DIVISIVE ISSUE.