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Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori and Russian President Vladimir Putin, both attending a summit of major industrial powers for the first time, played markedly different roles at the Group of Eight Okinawa summit that ended July 23.

Mori, as conference chairman, assumed his favorite role of coordinator and managed to steer clear of trouble at the meeting of world leaders despite widespread concern about his lack of diplomatic experience and his tendency to commit gaffes.

Putin, who visited China and North Korea immediately before attending the summit, used the high-profile conference to raise objections to the planned U.S. national missile defense shield. The new president — who shared with British Prime Minister Tony Blair the distinction of being the youngest summiteer at 47 — conducted tough negotiations with the more experienced U.S. President Bill Clinton. Putin placed emphasis on Russia’s national interests and pragmatic diplomacy in the negotiations with Clinton, who was attending his eighth summit.

Putin, who says Russia is both a European and an Asian nation, reportedly proposed a deal to Clinton. In exchange for international cooperation to help North Korea put satellites into orbit, Pyongyang would freeze its ballistic-missile development program. Putin made the proposal on the basis of his recent talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. He was obviously trying to challenge Washington’s rationalization that its national missile defense program is intended to prevent possible missile attacks from North Korea.

Washington is wary of the proposed deal with Pyongyang and is unsure of the latter’s intentions. European leaders, however, wanted to hear details of Putin’s talks with Kim. Putin took the initiative regarding Korean Peninsula issues, telling reporters at a news conference that Kim could be “a partner in negotiations” and adding that “it is possible to do business with him.”

Putin showed his political skills when he disclosed details of his meeting with the enigmatic Kim at the highly publicized summit and demonstrated his influence over North Korea.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder praised Putin’s “confident, but not overdrawn, appearance.” Many European leaders approved the possible participation of Russia as a full member of the G8. Putin, who had expressed the hope of taking part in all G8 summits, made great strides toward achieving his goal.

John Kirton, professor at the University of Toronto and an expert on summits in the past 25 years, said that the most important leader at the Okinawa summit was “not President Clinton, but President Putin.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Mori managed to avoid trouble at the conference he hosted immediately after launching his second coalition Cabinet. Mori must have felt a heavy sense of responsibility, having inherited his predecessor Keizo Obuchi’s decision to hold the summit in Okinawa.

Although he made no high-profile moves, Mori deserves praise for incorporating in the G8 communique the need for security and nuclear nonproliferation as well as international concerns about humanitarian issues, against the background of North Korea’s suspected ballistic-missile development and alleged abduction of Japanese.

In addition, Japan promised to provide developing countries with $15 billion over five years to help them develop information technologies. Japan also proposed to host an international conference this winter to establish a new partnership of developing countries, international organizations and nongovernmental organizations for combating AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Japan pledged to contribute $3 billion over five years to the fight against infectious diseases.

Mori, however, made no proposal on summits in the 21st century — for example, on whether China and other developing countries should be invited. The summit should have held free and frank discussions on how to run the world in the new century.

Mori and Putin, the main players at the latest summit, will meet again in early September in Tokyo for discussions on a Japan-Russia peace treaty. Putin told Mori after the G8 summit that bilateral relations should be expanded first on all fronts, another way of expressing reservations about concluding the pact.

For Putin, who has installed direct presidential rule in the rebel Chechen republic, territorial disputes are the most troublesome domestic issues.

At the post-Cold War 1992 Munich summit, which then Russian President Boris Yeltsin attended, the Group of Seven’s political declaration mentioned the territorial issue of Japan’s claim to the Northern Territories. The declaration said, “We welcome Russia’s commitment to a foreign policy based on the principle of law and justice. We believe that this represents a basis for full normalization of the Japan-Russia relationship through resolving the territorial issue.”

In 1993, Yeltsin and then Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa signed the Tokyo Declaration, which established the basic principle that a bilateral peace treaty should be concluded after resolution of the Northern Territories issue. Mori and Putin, in a meeting held in April, agreed to respect all past bilateral agreements on the Northern Territories, including the Tokyo declaration, the Krasnoyarsk (Siberia) agreement and the Moscow declaration. The Krasnoyarsk agreement called on Japan and Russia to do their best to conclude a peace treaty by 2000. It is essential that the new leaders of Japan and Russia reaffirm their commitment to abide by past agreements to establish stable long-term bilateral relations.

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