The Kurile Islands have become a political battleground this week between Russia's Foreign Ministry and parliament. The development follows a warning last week from a senior member of the parliamentary committee on international relations, Viktor Sheinis, who said in an interview that because of disagreements over the future status of the Kurile Island territories, ""now is not a very favorable time"" for President Boris Yeltsin to plan a visit to Tokyo. That visit is due to start on Sept. 15. On July 24 the chairman of parliament's Constitutional Commission, Oleg Rumyantsev, proposed that deputies vote to recommend postponement of the presidential visit unless Yeltsin and parliament first agreed on the constitutional limits of the president's power to negotiate the future of the islands. A closed-door hearing on this issue was called by Rumyantsev at the Supreme Soviet on Tuesday.
South Africa's deputy minister of trade and industry, David Graaf, was in Moscow to meet with Russian officials and launch a week-long exhibition of South African companies. Graaf met this week with the Russian minister of foreign economic relations, Pyotr Aven, and the deputy minister with responsibility for African affairs, Vladimir Rabotyazhev. South African officials say that ""no concrete steps"" were decided at their meetings. An agreement on trade has been drafted, the officials said, but it has not yet been signed. The trade talks follow the visit on June 1-2 of South Africa's president, Frederic de Klerk, who agreed to provide government-backed trade credits worth $50 million. The South Africans say they are waiting for the Russian government to decide which bank it will designate to guarantee repayment of the credits and manage the credit program.