Two days of informal talks between Russian president Boris Yeltsin and Japanese prime minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, which concluded yesterday in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, were hailed by both sides as historic and as a major milestone in efforts to improve bilateral relations. Amid bear hugs and other indications that the two men had achieved at least one of their pre-summit goals — to strengthen their personal relationship — Yeltsin and Hashimoto told reporters that they had agreed to intensify efforts to conclude a Japanese-Russian peace treaty by the year 2000.
Those negotiations, Hashimoto said, would be based on a 1993 political statement — called the Tokyo declaration — which stipulated resolution of the Kuril Islands territorial dispute based on international law and justice. The territorial dispute has remained since World War II the major point of friction between the two countries, and Tokyo had until recently made progress on that issue a precondition for improved relations in other areas. Despite the pledge yesterday by the two leaders, however, and a related agreement to seek an accord on fishing in the waters off the disputed islands, it was unclear whether any real breakthrough had occurred on the territorial issue. Various figures in the Russian government had indicated before the weekend’s talks that Moscow remained unwilling to make any significant concessions on the islands, and Russian first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov reinforced that stance yesterday when he told reporters that the Russian constitution binds Yeltsin to maintain Russia’s borders, and therefore its control of the Kuril Islands.
The two leaders did reach a number of agreements unrelated to the territorial row, however. They included a six-point agreement aimed at boosting Japanese investment in Russia, cooperation in the development of oil pipelines and an upgrading of the Trans-Siberian railroad, and a plan to train Russian managers in Japan. Hashimoto pledged to support Russia’s entry into both the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group and the World Trade Organization. The two sides also reached an agreement to intensify cooperation between their armed forces; military leaders will increase their contacts and will discuss possible joint peacekeeping and disaster rescue exercises. (The Washington Post, November 1-3; Reuter, AP, Russian agencies, November 1-2)
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