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Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Vladimir Putin concluded their two-day summit in Tokyo on Tuesday, agreeing to continue peace treaty negotiations toward the yearend deadline but with a territorial dispute stuck at an impasse.

The failure of the talks to narrow the countries’ differences over the sovereignty of four islands off Hokkaido makes it apparent that a peace treaty is as elusive as ever — a feeling underscored by the fact that the two leaders did not set a new deadline beyond the end of the year.

Mori and Putin remained apart in the final session of the talks, held Tuesday morning at the Government Guesthouse at Akasaka with only the two leaders and their interpreters participating.

In the joint news conference that followed, the two leaders promised to observe the 1997 agreement made in Krasnoyarsk, eastern Siberia, which confirmed the two countries’ resolve to end the territorial row and sign a peace treaty by the end of 2000.

Tuesday’s agreement was also compiled in a joint statement on peace treaty negotiations that reaffirms their resolve to meet the yearend target under the enhanced Tokyo-Moscow partnership.

However, Mori and Putin appeared to take a different attitude toward the deadline, with the Japanese side seemingly more eager to pursue the issue.

“We agreed to continue negotiations based on all the past agreements,” Mori said, emphasizing that the two countries will strive to fulfill the 1997 Krasnoyarsk pact.

Prompted by a reporter, Mori ruled out the possibility of a new deadline being set, even with the slim chance that the current one would be met.

“We still have four months left until the end of the year. In the meantime, we can meet again, regardless of the target,” he said.

During Monday’s talks, Putin invited Mori to Moscow for another bilateral summit. It is believed the prime minister will try to make the visit some time this fall in an effort to achieve a breakthrough in the stalled territorial talks.

Mori’s eagerness to resolve the dispute and sign a peace treaty before January, however, was not echoed by Putin.

At the joint press conference, the Russian president said it is his understanding that the Krasnoyarsk agreement only calls for the countries’ “utmost efforts” to conclude a peace treaty in 2000.

“What is important is not a target but a will to tackle this difficult problem,” he said, underlining that the countries’ efforts so far have already fulfilled the 1997 pact. “I would clearly say the agreement has been met.”

Putin emphasized that the two sides tried to seek a compromise during the two-day negotiations. “We examined Japan’s Kawana proposal, but our idea is also constructive,” he said.

Under the proposal, reached in April 1998 in Kawana, Shizuoka Prefecture, between then Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and then Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Japan wants to redraw the demarcation line north of the disputed islands but Russia’s administration would remain intact until the islands are returned.

Throughout the talks, both sides faced the same deadlock they reached in previous negotiations.

The Russian side rejected Japan’s proposal and once again presented its counterproposal for the two countries to sign an interim treaty of peace and amity this year and leave the demarcation issue for future negotiations.

Rather than highlighting the failure of the peace treaty negotiations, Mori and Putin attempted to place emphasis on the advancement in Japan-Russia relations since the 1990s.

“Over the past two years, there has been great progress” in bilateral relations, Putin said, alluding to the realization of visa-free visits to the disputed islands by Japanese former residents and their families.

During Putin’s three-day visit here, Japan and Russia signed 15 documents on enhanced ties, including a new, broad-based economic cooperation program that follows the 1997 Hashimoto-Yeltsin Plan.

Mori said there is great potential in economic cooperation between Japan and Russia and Tokyo is ready to bring about mutual benefits from expanded ties. in this field. The prime minister also expressed Tokyo’s hope that Russia’s investment environment will be further improved for foreign businesses, promising Japan’s continued support for Putin’s economic reform efforts.

Regarding United Nations reform, the prime minister welcomed Russia’s support for Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council, as expressed by Putin the previous day.

“Russia’s support is very encouraging, as it comes just before the (U.N.) Millennium Summit,” Mori said.

Later in the day, Mori and Putin left for New York to attend the U.N. summit.

Visit date to be set later

It is difficult to set an exact date for Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori’s visit to Russia as agreed to during the Japan-Russia summit in Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hidenao Nakagawa told a regular news conference Tuesday.

Mori has expressed his desire to go to Moscow before the yearend deadline set by the two nations to sign a peace treaty.

Nakagawa added that the Japanese side believes the deadline holds more significance than a mere goal “to pursue with effort,” as Russian President Vladimir Putin described it. during a joint press conference with Mori earlier in the day.

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