Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Ex-Prime Minister Mori To Smooth The Way For Abe-Putin Talks
TOKYO (Nikkei)--Former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has been enlisted to revive a long-stalled territorial dispute with Russia because of his personal ties with President Vladimir Putin.
Mori, who retired from parliament last year, will visit Moscow on Wednesday as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's envoy and deliver a personal letter from the Japanese prime minister to Putin.
He will "exchange opinions (with Putin) on Japan-Russia relations as a whole to pave the way for Prime Minister Abe's visit," scheduled for April or May, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.
Sending Mori as an envoy to Russia was previously floated by the government of then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. Putin welcomed the idea, and Mori was supposed to meet with the Russian president Nov. 26. Those plans were cancelled, in part because of the lower house dissolution and election in Japan, but Moscow immediately rescheduled the visit.
Mori is to meet with lower house Speaker Sergei Naryshkin, a close aide to Putin, on Friday. He is also slated to give a lecture at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations the same day.
Mori and Putin go way back. Mori traveled to Russia on his first foreign trip as prime minister in April 2000, right after taking office, and met with Putin, who was slated to be inaugurated as president.
"To this day, Mr. Putin respects Mr. Mori as the first key overseas leader who came to visit him right away even before he formed his government," says a source familiar with Russo-Japanese relations.
Close aides to Abe hope that Mori's trip will help create a friendly atmosphere conducive to restarting territorial talks. Putin also appears willing to settle the territorial dispute. With natural gas prices falling due to the spread of shale gas from North America, Putin hopes to jump-start the Russian economy by strengthening economic ties with Japan.
But a concrete, mutually acceptable solution remains elusive.
While Japan is demanding the return of all four islands, Russia favors handing over just two -- Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.
(The Nikkei, Feb. 19 morning edition)