The Soviet Union's new "peace offensive" has got off to a sluggish start with Japan. The Japanese listened politely to proposals first put forward by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhev at the recent Communist Party congress, then told Moscow: "We are more interested in your actions than your words."
In the past few days, Soviet ambassador to Tokyo Dmitri Polyansky has delivered Mr. Brezhnev's message to top officials of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Foreign Minister Masayoshi Ito.
The ambassador had pressed hard for the meetings. But once he got his way, the Japanese were disappointed with the contents of the first official top-level contact for almost three years.
"The ambassador turned out to be nothing more than a messenger boy for Brezhev," complained one source close to the talks.
"He offered nothing substantive on any issue of concern to the Japanese government. The message could almost as easily have been delivered by the postman."
The ambassador also wanted to talk to Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki. But government spokesman Kiichi Miyazawa said Monday that close analysis of last week's encounters showed there was no need for such a meeting at this stage.He also strongly attacked the Soviets' "strange diplomatic strategy," and total lack of understanding of Japan.
Mr. Polyansky, he noted, had at first "steathily" tried to arrange an undercover meeting with Prime Minister Suzuki.
Japan, however, was an open society which did not go in for secret meetings between its leaders and foreign diplomats -- and it was time the Russians understood that fact.
He also pointed out that Japan's ambassador in Moscow was allowed no opportunity for contact with the Kremlin leadership. (The Soviets often limit ambassadors' access to the Kremlin, preparing to get their points across through their own ambassadors in foreign capitals.)
Having held the Russians at arm's length for so long, the Japanese went to great lengths to ensure Moscow did not misinterpret the slight concession being made last week.
Mr. Polyansky expressed Soviet willingness to talk with Japan on confidence-building measures, including steps to reduce distrust in the political and military areas.
But Foreign Minister Ito quickly set the tone for the two- hour meeting by responding that the Soviet Union had to show its good faith through acts that Japan would closely watch, not mere words.
If the Russians were genuine in their desire, he said, the first steps were removal of troops and military based from northern islands claimed by Japan and a willingness to come to the negotiating table to discuss the territorial dispute.
The Japanese have refused to sign a peace treaty with Moscow until four groups of islands seized by Russian troops at the end of World War II are returned.
Meeting with Liberal Democratic Party executives, Mr. Polyansky proposed the two countries should try to promote bilateral cooperation in such areas as trade and developing Siberian resources, fisheries, and cultural exchanges.
He said efforts should be made to develop a "realistic dialogue" by excluding issues that would "only widen existing differences."
But LDP secretary-general Yoshio Sakurauchi told him bluntly there could be no progress in any area while the northern territories issue remained unresolved "like a fish bone struck in the throat." Unless it is removed, he said, "we have no intention of considering a full-scale improvement of th e bilateral relationship."