Mori arrives in Russia as whirlwind tour begins

Kyodo

Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori arrived in St. Petersburg on Friday, kicking off a nine-day tour of other Group of Eight nations in preparation for the July summit in Okinawa Prefecture.

Mori arrived in the hometown of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin at 6:38 p.m. The whirlwind tour marks Mori’s first overseas trip since he took office earlier this month to replace his comatose predecessor Keizo Obuchi.

He will hold informal talks with Putin on Saturday — the first Japan-Russo summit since November 1998.

The two are expected to discuss their countries’ plans to solve a long-standing territorial dispute and conclude a peace treaty by the end of the year.

Speaking to reporters during his flight to St. Petersburg, Mori said the Japanese government has chosen three broad objectives for the Okinawa summit: a more prosperous 21st century, peace and tranquillity for everyone, and global stability.

Mori said he plans to tell Japan’s G8 partners that he is determined to pull the Japanese economy out of its prolonged slump.

On his meeting with Putin, Mori said he plans to underscore the importance of the two nations concluding a peace treaty.

Mori also plans to offer Japanese support for Russia’s bid to host the 2003 G8 summit on condition that Putin works to further integrate Russia’s economy into the international system, including the World Trade Organization, the sources said.

Russia has expressed a strong desire to host the 2003 G8 summit but some G8 members are reluctant to accept the idea, saying Russia has made insufficient progress in economic reforms.

After his meeting with Putin, Mori will visit Italy, France, Germany, Britain and Canada. His last stop will be Washington, where he will meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton for the first time as Japan’s leader.

The two countries had planned to hold high-level deregulation talks prior to the Japan-U.S. summit on May 5 in a bid to iron out differences over interconnection fees.

But Japan intends to cancel the talks, Japanese Foreign Ministry sources said just before Mori’s departure for Russia.

Japan and the U.S. were unable to compile a joint report on a comprehensive deregulation program by their initial target of March because of a rupture in talks that month over methods of cutting the interconnection fees.

In the March talks, Japan repeated its proposal to cut fees charged by NTT for the use of its networks by other carriers by 22.5 percent after four years. The U.S., however, demanded a deeper cut, preferably 50 percent, over a two-year period.

Security issues are also expected to figure high on the Japan-U.S. agenda.

One topic likely to be taken up is Japan’s host-nation support for U.S. forces stationed in the country.

The two countries began negotiations in January to review a five-year host-nation treaty that expires in March 2001 but they remain apart on the issue. The U.S. wants Japan to keep its financial support intact, but Japan is calling for consideration to be given to Japan’s tight fiscal conditions.

Mori will return to Tokyo on May 6.