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The G7 Summit: Japan puts diplomatic pressure on Yeltsin

MUNICH - There are signs that Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President, who will attend post-summit talks with the Group of Seven leaders tomorrow, may not receive an automatic invitation to a similar session at the conclusion of next year's summit, writes Peter Torday. Senior G7 officials said Japan, which will host the summit next year, has quietly lobbied its partners to drop the idea of issuing an invitation to Mr Yeltsin to next year's meetings.

The Japanese plan is not intended to exclude the Russian President from future G7 summits. But it is intended to increase the pressure on Mr Yeltsin to return the four Kurile islands off Japan's northern coast, which were seized by Stalin at the end of the Second World War, before the 1993 summit takes place.

Mr Yeltsin, who arrives in Munich today, said yesterday that other leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States had authorised him to ask for several years' deferral of interest and principal repayments on the Soviet foreign debt. Theo Waigel, Germany's Finance Minister, said that a debt moratorium could be on the cards. But there are clear differences between G7 nations over how to treat Mr Yeltsin when he arrives, of which the most prominent is Japan's reluctance over its lost territories.

At last year's summit, Japan unsuccessfully pressed Mikhail Gorbachev to hand back the islands. Despite Mr Gorbachev's refusal to do so, Japan agreed to participate in a plan, hatched earlier this year, to assemble a dollars 24bn ( pounds 12.6bn) financial aid package for Russia, the first tranche of which was formally unlocked yesterday. But Japan's patience on the islands issue appears to have run out. It plans to exploit its role as future summit host to the full. A decision on whether to invite Mr Yeltsin will be delayed, if Japan has its way.

Japanese officials attending this week's summit are blunt about future aid to Russia. It will all depend on Mr Yeltsin. He is due in Tokyo in September. Japanese officials describe it as a crucial visit, with its centrepiece the unresolved islands question and the unsigned peace treaty between the two countries. The absence of an invitation this week, Japan hopes, will force Mr Yeltsin to capitulate by September.

Russia's refusal to hand the islands back has also sunk its chances of expanding the G7 to a Group of Eight. Most members - Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Germany and the United States - are sensitive to Japan's concerns. But beyond that, Russia has a long way to go before it achieves the status of a free-market democracy.