日露外相会談 首脳往来の環境を整備したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Prepare environment to promote mutual visits between Abe, Putin
日露外相会談 首脳往来の環境を整備したい

Continuing high-level talks with Russia is essential in order to make progress on the issue of the northern territories. Persistent effort is the key.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida met with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Tokyo on Friday. The two agreed to prepare for a summit meeting in Russia’s southern city of Sochi in early May.

At a joint press conference, Kishida referred to the issue of the northern territories, saying: “We had a positive discussion aimed at formulating a solution acceptable to both sides, which I believe will bring momentum to the negotiations.”

Lavrov responded by saying that Moscow is ready to continue dialogue with Tokyo. Compared with the stubborn attitude he showed after his September meeting with Kishida — Lavrov at that time unilaterally denied that they had even discussed the northern territories at the meeting — we can say that the Russian minister was more flexible this time.

The atmosphere surrounding the diplomacy between Tokyo and Moscow is not bad. Since autumn, the two countries have held repeated exchanges between lawmakers as well as talks between senior government officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin embraced Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s envisaged visit to Sochi. He told reporters that Japan is making efforts to maintain its relationship with Russia “despite U.S.-centered pressure.” Putin added that the two countries will be able to find middle ground on the territorial issue someday.

Strong willpower needed

Of course, it is too early to say that Moscow has shifted to a softer approach on territorial issues.

In an interview with certain media ahead of his visit to Japan, Lavrov said the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration does not say that the territorial dispute will be discussed during negotiations on the envisioned peace treaty.

The remarks contradict past agreements between Japan and Russia, such as the 2001 Irkutsk Statement, which states that settling the territorial jurisdiction of the four islands off Hokkaido is a precondition to concluding a peace treaty. Lavrov’s remarks cannot be accepted. Moscow should remember that Putin himself signed the Irkutsk Statement.

Abe and Putin will have to have strong willpower and be decisive in resolving the territorial dispute.

The tenure of both leaders ends in 2018. We urge both governments to materialize the Russian president’s visit to Japan after Abe’s trip to Russia. It is important to seek a path toward reaching an agreement on the issue by exchanging mutual visits. We urge the government to steadily and strategically prepare the way for fostering the needed environment.

At the same time, it is important not to disrupt the unity of the Group of Seven developed nations.

U.S. President Barack Obama has confronted Putin over the Ukranian conflict. Obama expressed concern over Abe’s envisaged Sochi visit during a telephone discussion in February, asking him to postpone it. Abe countered: “A peace treaty issue with Russia is also important. We must continue dialogue with Russia.”

Earlier this month, Abe held a meeting with Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko, pledging to continue financial support to the country.

It is essential for the government to explain Japan’s standpoint of simultaneously working on the two issues — easing the Ukranian conflict and making progress in Japan-Russia relations — to the United States and European countries to obtain their understanding before Japan hosts the G-7 Ise-Shima Summit meeting in May.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 17, 2016)

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