Russian and Japanese negotiators yesterday launched five days of talks in Moscow aimed at reaching agreement on a packet of documents that would permit — and regulate — fishing by Japanese boats in the waters off the Russian-controlled Kuril Islands. This is the twelfth round of talks, which began on Russia’s initiative in March, 1995. Russia’s Federal Border Service, the Agriculture Ministry, and the Foreign Ministry are represented on the Russian delegation; Japanese participants come from the Ministry of Land, Forestry, and Fishing, the Department for Security at Sea, and the Foreign Ministry. In an appeal issued yesterday, the legislature of Russia’s Far Eastern Sakhalin region expressed bewilderment over its exclusion from the talks, and called on Moscow to include its representatives in the negotiations.
Although a Russian Foreign Ministry official yesterday expressed some optimism that this round of talks might conclude successfully and that the packet of agreements could be signed before the end of this year, he also admitted that differences remain between the two sides on several key issues. The most fundamental disagreement, according to Russian representatives, is Tokyo’s effort to link an agreement on the fishing regulations to the broader issue of political control over the four disputed islands. Specifically, Japanese negotiators are said to oppose any mention in the agreements of the regulations pertaining to Russia’s territorial waters. The Russian side claims to be taking a purely commercial and practical approach to the negotiations that would omit any reference to the broader political dispute over the islands. (Russian agencies, October 13)
Russian border authorities have repeatedly accused Japanese fishermen of "poaching" in Russian waters off the Kuril Islands, and Russian coastal guard vessels have on several occasions fired on Japanese boats. The most recent of these incidents, which left one Japanese fisherman seriously injured, occurred in late June and prompted an official protest by the Japanese government. (See Monitor, June 27, July 1) Moscow has also admitted, albeit with considerably less fanfare, that Russian fisherman operating private boats have been guilty of illegal fishing in the area as well.
This latest round of talks in Moscow is noteworthy because it will test a recent warming in relations between Russia and Japan and because it comes in the runup to highly anticipated talks between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, scheduled for Krasnoyarsk on November 1-2. Indeed, government and other sources in Tokyo speculate that Hashimoto is hoping that a series of upcoming meetings with foreign leaders, beginning with Yeltsin, will help boost his sagging popularity ratings at home. With that goal in mind, Hashimoto is expected to press Yeltsin for a resolution to the territorial dispute. (Kyodo, October 10)
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