Yeltsin, in visit to Tokyo, to discuss return of 4 Japanese islands seized in 1945

October 08, 1993|By Thomas Easton | Thomas Easton,Tokyo Bureau

TOKYO -- Twice within little more than a year Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin has jilted Japan out of a visit. Monday, he is expected to finally arrive and nothing -- not even an aborted revolution -- has shaken the Japanese confidence that he is coming.

"Up till now there has not been any indication from the Russian side, the Russian government, suggesting any change or postponement," said Sadaaki Numata, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.

A team of Russian officials are to arrive in Tokyo today to make final preparations on what may be a series of agreements between the two countries.

Suspected to be among these is the resolution of a half-century old dispute concerning the Kurils, four remote islands off the northeast coast of Japan seized by the Soviet Union in the final week of World War II. The two countries have yet to sign a peace treaty and full normalization of relations requires that this issue be resolved, said Mr. Numata.

President Yeltsin has cited turmoil at home in canceling meetings in May and in September, 1992. That may have been considered to be a good reason once again, if President Yeltsin hadn't managed to make it to Tokyo in July to meet with President Clinton and other G-7 leaders.

President Yeltsin's currently scheduled visit has become not only a matter of extreme political importance for the two countries, but also an issue of face.

This time, the Japanese seem to believe they have made an offer that can't be refused. For months, Japan has been a major supporter of Mr. Yeltsin, quickly and vocally backing him throughout the current crises.

Going further, it has reinforced its statements with money, approximately $5 billion in grants and loans covering everything from powdered milk for infants to credit for small businesses to insurance for major energy development projects.

Finally, on a more personal level, the Japanese have planned a royal welcome. Mr. Yeltsin's first and last stops will be with the emperor and empress at the Imperial Palace.

Rather than force President Yeltsin to cope with Tokyo's clogged mid-day traffic, Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, will visit President Yeltsin's temporary lodging, the swank Akasaka Palace, for several talks.

The agenda has yet to be announced, but the Foreign Ministry confirmed yesterday that delegates are preparing a series of documents for signing. Reports in the Japanese and Russian press suggest there are approximately 15 agreements covering issues such as the handling of Russian nuclear weapons, mutual security and cooperation on space ventures.

The most controversial of the issues is the disposition of the four islands.

The Japanese residents of the islands have long since departed and the only occupants are about 25,000 people resettled by the old Soviet Union.

While the islands themselves may have limited value, they are strategically positioned. The surrounding fishing grounds are rich and a nearby channel is said to be a critical passageway for Russian nuclear submarines in the Pacific Ocean.

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