Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 185

The formation of a new government in Japan under Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi appears to have had no immediate positive impact on stagnating Russian-Japanese relations. In Moscow, Russian diplomats and political leaders were quick to welcome the appointment of Yohei Kono as foreign minister. Like their Japanese counterparts, Russian diplomats also accented what they said would be continued efforts by the two governments to improve bilateral ties. But, in separate meetings on October 5 between a group of visiting Japanese parliamentarians and both Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, Tokyo failed yet again to win a commitment from President Boris Yeltsin as to when he will make a long-delayed summit visit to Japan. Moscow was similarly noncommittal during a first telephone conversation between Ivanov and Kono yesterday. Both sides said that preparations for the visit would continue, and there were suggestions that Yeltsin could still travel to Japan before the end of this year, as had been planned earlier. But the Russian government refused to set a specific date for the trip (Reuters, Russian agencies, October 5; Kyodo, October 5-6).

The scheduling of the Yeltsin visit reflects the broader state of Russian-Japanese relations. Obuchi last visited Moscow for summit talks in November 1998, and Yeltsin had been expected to return the favor this past spring. The Kremlin’s failure to follow through on the commitment, however, and its subsequent equivocations over a summit date, appear to be the result of a continued stalemate in negotiations on other key issues. These center particularly on both the Kuril Islands territorial dispute and a parallel effort by the two countries to draft and sign by the end of this year a peace treaty to formally end World War II. Under the terms of a 1997 agreement, Moscow and Tokyo had pledged to try to finalize the peace treaty by the year 2000. But the two governments have stumbled over Tokyo’s efforts to include Russian recognition of Japanese sovereignty over the four disputed islands in the treaty terms. Moscow wants to defer the territorial issue indefinitely and Yeltsin appears reluctant to visit Japan as long as the two countries remain deadlocked.