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Abe tells Obama he intends to continue dialogue with Russia to resolve territorial issue

(Yomiuri: May 16, 2015 – p. 2)

 

 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conveyed to President Barack Obama at their recent summit his desire to continue Japan-Russia dialogue because Japan is dealing with a longstanding territorial dispute over the Northern Territories. It will be a difficult balancing act to promote bilateral relations with Russia while still cooperating with the G7’s sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine situation.

 

 Abe informed Obama of plans for Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to visit Russia and for President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan before the end of the year. Both visits were agreed upon at the Japan-Russia summit last November. However, the U.S. asked Japan to be cautious in its relationship with Russia. It has reportedly also conveyed its concern over the subcabinet talks to be held in Moscow on May 18.

 

 Abe intends to continue with Japan-Russia diplomacy because he wants to use his relationship of trust with Putin to push for progress in the territorial talks. Abe pointed out to Obama: “Seventy years have passed since the end of World War II, but Japan has not been able to put its relationship with Russia on a proper footing. The absence of a peace treaty with Russia is a factor of uncertainty.” At the recent Japan-U.S. summit, whose main focus was to strengthen the bilateral security alliance, he made it a point to emphasize that the relationship with Russia directly affects Japan’s national interest.

 

 Abe is concerned that the sanctions imposed by the Western countries may result in Russia moving closer to China. If something is not done about China-Russia rapprochement, it will become a factor of concern for Japan’s security. Abe explained to Obama that the number of scrambles in response to intrusions into Japanese airspace by Chinese and Russian aircraft

 is increasing.

 

 The two main unresolved diplomatic issues for Japan are North Korea’s abduction of Japanese nationals and the Northern Territories issue. With no progress being made in the abduction issue, relations with Russia have increased in importance.

 

 Abe intends to make great efforts in diplomacy with Russia from now on while keeping in close communication with the Western countries. To demonstrate cooperation with the G7, he is planning to visit Ukraine to meet with President Petro Poroshenko prior to the G7 Summit in Germany on June 7-8. He is also looking into the possibility of meeting with Putin during his visit to Kazakhstan in Central Asia in August.

 

 In light of Abe’s indication of plans for Putin to visit Japan this year, the Obama administration is expected to ask the Japanese government for caution because the visit would “weaken the international community’s unity in applying pressure on Russia (over the Ukraine issue),” according to a U.S. government official.

 

 Along with Middle East issues, the Ukraine situation is a top foreign policy and security issue for the Obama administration. Obama offered Abe the highest level of hospitality during his visit and expressed strong support for Japan’s position on the Senkaku Islands issue.

 

 Therefore, there is a strong expectation in the U.S. government that “it is now Japan’s turn to support the U.S. in relations with Russia,” according to a senior official.

 

 The U.S. government is concerned that Putin’s visit to Japan may send the wrong message to the international community—the message that Japan accepts Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, an act of “changing the status quo by force.”

 

 International cooperation is indispensable for the economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and other countries to be effective. The visit to Japan is important for Putin to drive a wedge into the G7’s network of sanctions and for Russia to break out of isolation in the international community.

 

 For now, the U.S. government is closely observing the Japan-Russia vice foreign ministers’ meeting on May 18. If the two countries move closer as a result of this meeting, U.S. government officials may become deeply disappointed with Japan.

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