Despite earlier reluctance, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto is ready to welcome Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the Group of Seven summit in Denver, Colo., in June, Foreign Minister Yukihiko Ikeda told a visiting senior Russian official Friday.

Ikeda told Yevgeny Yasin, the top Russian official in charge of economic reform, that Hashimoto is looking forward to meeting Yeltsin in Denver, adding that the meeting will be important because “it will be the first ‘G-8’ summit,” according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Last month, Hashimoto expressed reluctance to accept Russian participation after Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton made the agreement.

Hashimoto said Japan is reluctant because of the long-held territorial dispute over four islets off Hokkaido that were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II.

Ikeda’s remark was in response to a letter from Yeltsin to Hashimoto, in which the Russian leader said he is looking forward to meeting Hashimoto in Denver, the officials said.

In the letter, Yeltsin said that he is prepared to promote cooperation with Hashimoto to further improve bilateral relations, according to the officials.

Meanwhile, Ikeda told Yasin that Japan will send two experts on economic affairs to Russia to help promote economic reform, the officials said.

Shunichiro Ushijima, a senior official at the Economic Planning Agency, and Shigeki Ono, a graduate student at Hokkaido University, will leave for Russia around May.

Ikeda and Yasin affirmed that the dispatch will help to improve bilateral economic relations, according to the officials.

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