Japan, Russia vow to continue work to sign treaty by yearend


Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin agreed Saturday to continue working toward signing a peace treaty by the end of the year, but the possibility of achieving that target was thrown into doubt as Tokyo’s bid to jump-start the stalled talks with an early visit by Putin to Japan was apparently snubbed.

During their two-hour informal talks at the State Russian Museum here, Mori and Putin agreed to continue peace treaty negotiations while simultaneously boosting a “strategic partnership” and “wide-ranging economic cooperation,” Japanese officials said.

However, there was no clear indication that Mori succeeded in putting the stalled peace treaty talks back on track as hoped.

The two leaders were unable to set a date for an official visit to Japan by Putin, which Japanese officials hope will be a next big step in the peace treaty talks. Putin told Mori he would pay a visit by the end of the year.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the two leaders agreed to respect past agreements regarding the peace treaty, including one reached in 1997 by then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Russian President Boris Yeltsin to resolve a long-standing territorial dispute and sign a peace treaty by the end of 2000.

The territorial row involves the Russian-held islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan, and the Habomai group of islets. They were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II.

Dispute over sovereignty over the islands has marred bilateral relations and has prevented the two nations from signing a peace treaty.

In the talks, Mori proposed that Putin make an official visit to Tokyo from July 24 to 25, following the July 21-23 summit of the Group of Eight nations in Okinawa Prefecture.

Mori extended the invitation in an effort to jump-start the treaty negotiations, but Putin did not agree to the proposal, the prime minister told reporters after their talks.

Putin told the press that he would probably visit Japan sometime before the end of the year, adding that the date will be decided through diplomatic channels.

Putin also said the two leaders agreed on a visit to Japan by Russia’s new prime minister, which he is expected to appoint next month.

Tokyo is worried that without an early visit by the Russian leader, it will be extremely difficult to conclude the peace treaty by the end of the year.

Saturday’s meeting was the first between Mori, who took office earlier this month, and Putin, who was elected in March and will take office May 7.

“We are honored that you have chosen Russia for your first visit overseas (as prime minister),” Putin told Mori at the start of the talks. “We regard it as a good sign” of the significance Japan attaches to its ties with Russia, he said.

Prior to the talks, Japanese officials were saying that a key objective of their meeting was for Mori to build personal trust with the new Russian leader and boost momentum for the peace treaty talks.

Despite the 1997 accord between Yeltsin and Hashimoto, negotiations on the issue have made little progress and were particularly hurt as Yeltsin’s political leadership spiraled downward.

Japanese government officials therefore hope that Putin’s stronger grip on power than his predecessor may enable him to take bold initiatives on the dispute. But while Mori and Putin agreed to honor past bilateral agreements on the issue, the prospect for future talks remained far from clear.

Since 1997, Japan has offered a compromise proposal under which it would allow Russia to continue to keep effective control over the disputed islands as long as Moscow agreed to draw a Russo-Japanese border north of them.

However, Russia continues to insist that the two governments should first conclude a peace treaty and then discuss the territorial row.

During Saturday’s talks, Mori offered Japanese support for Russia’s bid to host the 2003 G8 summit.

Russia has expressed a strong desire to host the 2003 meeting, but some G8 members are reluctant to accept the idea, saying Russia has made insufficient progress in economic reforms. Russia is Mori’s first stop on a G8 tour aimed at giving him a chance to meet his G8 counterparts before he hosts the Okinawa summit.

Mori aims to fix it all

MOSCOW (Kyodo) Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, in an interview published here Saturday, expressed a strong desire to boost Russo-Japanese ties by simultaneously tackling various challenges facing the two countries.

“It is my desire to resolve at the same time, and in parallel, all our priority problems, including interaction between Japan and Russia in the Asia-Pacific region, broad economic cooperation and the conclusion of a peace treaty,” Mori said in the interview with the government-affiliated daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.