Japan, Russia remain apart over N. territories issue

Jiji Press MOSCOW (Jiji Press) — Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, remained apart Friday over the issue of four northwestern Pacific islands at the center of the two countries’ territorial row.

At a joint press conference following their meeting in Moscow, Kono indicated that the two sides failed to bridge differences in their positions.

“It’s not easy to resolve the issue, which has remained for over 70 years since the end of the war,” the Japanese minister said.

Lavrov said that Japan needs to start by fully accepting the results of World War II. Moscow claims that the islands became Russian territory as a result of the war.

The Kono-Lavrov meeting was the third since the Japanese and Russian top diplomats were appointed by their countries’ leaders to take charge of negotiations to conclude a long-deferred World War II peace treaty between the two countries.

The ministers agreed to hold division-chief-level and bureau-chief-level sessions in Moscow on May 20 and 21, respectively, to discuss proposed joint economic activities around the islands called the northern territories in Japan and Southern Kurils in Russia.

They also confirmed that the two governments will hold a so-called two-plus-two session among their foreign and defense ministers, as well as another Kono-Lavrov meeting, in Tokyo later this month.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed last year to accelerate the peace treaty negotiations between the two countries based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration.

The joint declaration calls for two of the four islands — Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets — to be transferred to Japan following the conclusion of a peace treaty.

At the press conference, however, Lavrov argued that the situation has fundamentally changed since 1956, referring to Japan’s plan to introduce Aegis Ashore land-based missile interceptor systems from the United States.

The Japanese government aims to find a breakthrough on the territorial issue before Abe and Putin have a bilateral summit on the sidelines of a Group of 20 summit in Osaka in late June.

But the Russian side has shown no sign of softening its stance.

During the latest meeting, Kono and Lavrov also had talks on efforts to denuclearize North Korea and its recent firing of apparent short-range ballistic missiles.Speech

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