Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Neckties But No Content At Summit




It is hard to understand why both President Boris Yeltsin and new Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi are getting together. On the face of it, the two countries have almost nothing to talk about.


This was certainly no obstacle to the warm relationship that sprang up between Yeltsin and Obuchi's predecessor Ryutaro Hashimoto at a series of no-neckties summits in exotic locations.


At least those meetings were useful icebreakers. They ended a diplomatic standoff between two countries that had bickered for 50 years over possession of the Kuril Islands, the contested rocks in the Pacific Ocean that Russia seized at the end of World War II.


Now at least Russia and Japan are on speaking terms and talking about signing a peace treaty to formally end their brief shooting war in 1945.


But the summits - with and without neckties - have done nothing to advance the more substantive issue of what to do about the Kurils.


Japan has a good claim to the islands and would desperately like them back. It might even pay Russia a substantial sum of money for the return of the islands. Even if Russia created some sort of condominium over the territories which allowed the Japanese a whiff of sovereignty, that might be enough to open up Tokyo's pocketbook.


Russia, now deeply impoverished, may dream of concluding such a deal. But it is probably a political nonstarter. It would raise the ire of every Russian communist and nationalist. It is also constitutionally suspect since Russia's basic law guarantees the country's territorial integrity.


Perhaps new Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov can use his Soviet tough-guy image to sell such a cash-for-Kurils deal. But it would be a big risk.


So what are Yeltsin and Obuchi going to talk about?


There will be some discussion perhaps of the usual Japan-Russia issues: the dumping of nuclear waste in the Far East and Japan's pledges of credits.


But most likely the two will just repeat the hearty back slapping and bonhomie of previous summits.


Then again, this would be one meeting where both Yeltsin and his summit partner are trying to escape reality.


Obuchi also has insoluble problems at home fixing Japan's economy. A foreign trip standing next to an even weaker leader may show him off to good advantage.


And any foreign meeting that is not a complete disaster will be deemed a success for Yeltsin, who has only just emerged from his convalescence in the resort of Sochi.