Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 211

Russian and Japanese officials said they were satisfied yesterday following talks in Moscow between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. The two leaders reportedly made some progress in resolving their countries’ decades-long dispute over the four disputed south Kuril Islands. But, because few details were made public on that aspect of yesterday’s talks, it was difficult to ascertain whether the progress was substantive or whether the two sides had continued merely to paper over their differences on the territorial issue.

Of equal import to the talks themselves, perhaps, was Boris Yeltsin’s failure to attend a banquet with Obuchi, which had been scheduled for later in the day. Japanese officials were quoted as expressing their surprise over Yeltsin’s absence from the banquet, and his sickly appearance during the talks themselves. The officials also denied reports by a Russian government spokesman that Yeltsin had informed the Japanese side earlier of his intention to skip the function. Yeltsin’s failure to make the banquet underscored anew the fragility of both his health and, seemingly, his authority as an actor on the international stage. Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov filled in for Yeltsin, as he has done on several previous occasions when the Russian president was to have met with foreign leaders.

Yesterday’s most anticipated event was Yeltsin’s delivery to Obuchi of a “counter-proposal” dealing with the disputed Kuril Islands. The Russian document, said to be three pages in length, was a response to a proposal on the islands made in April by then Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. The Hashimoto proposal has not been published, but it reportedly called for a redrawing of the Russian-Japanese border in a fashion which would ultimately bring the islands back under Japanese control.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov provided the only hint of what yesterday’s Russian counter-proposal contained. He told reporters that the Russian document would contribute to favorable conditions for “joint economic and other activities” on the islands, without “harming the state interests or political positions” of either Japan or Russia. A Japanese government spokesman said that Tokyo would respond officially to the Russian proposal at the next summit meeting between the two leaders. Yeltsin reportedly accepted an invitation from Obuchi yesterday to visit Japan next year “at the earliest opportunity.”

Yesterday’s meeting between Obuchi and Yeltsin reportedly lasted for nearly two hours, longer than the ninety minutes that had been scheduled. The two men began their discussions in a one-on-one format that lasted for approximately forty minutes, and then were joined by officials from each side. The Russian delegation included Ivanov and First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov, who has succeeded Boris Nemtsov as co-chair of a key Russian-Japanese trade and economic cooperation commission (AP, Russian agencies, Kyodo, November 12).