Staff writer

The Foreign Ministry generally welcomed the selection of Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi as president of the Liberal Democratic Party because Obuchi is familiar with Japan’s foreign policies and is acquainted with foreign leaders, ministry officials said.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sadaaki Numata said that it will be easy to work with Obuchi, who has experience and knowledge on foreign policy issues.

Another ministry official said he welcomes the foreign minister’s likely entry into the role of prime minister, although he noted that Obuchi might handle issues differently as the leader of the country than he did as foreign minister.

Ministry officials appeared relieved that improved relations with Russia, which had topped departing Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto’s diplomatic agenda, will be maintained under the leadership of Obuchi.

A ministry official said he hoped ties with Russia would be further strengthened under Obuchi, who had placed importance on the relationship as foreign minister.

Obuchi repeatedly said during his campaign for the party presidency that he would continue the progress made between Hashimoto and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Hashimoto and Yeltsin were working toward completing a bilateral peace treaty by the end of 2000, but a territorial row over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido remains an obstacle.

The official said that Hashimoto’s resignation was thought to be a slight setback to the bilateral relationship between Japan and Russia. But Obuchi, who has already held talks with Yeltsin and Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, will hopefully accelerate the improvement of bilateral relations once appointed prime minister by establishing strong ties with Yeltsin, the official said.

The Russian government has pledged not to change its policy toward Japan with the resignation of Hashimoto, the official said. Japan and Russia confirmed during Kiriyenko’s visit to Japan earlier this month that any political change would not affect the improved ties, he said.

As for the relationship with the United States, ministry officials said that Obuchi should visit the U.S. as soon as possible once appointed prime minister to make up for Hashimoto’s canceled trip to Washington. Hashimoto had planned to visit the U.S. capital this month.

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