Russia blasts proposed isle inspection

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

MOSCOW — The Russian government on Monday blasted plans by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to take a boat trip Thursday to view Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement lashing out at the plan, saying it complicates bilateral negotiations toward signing a post-World War II peace treaty.

Koizumi’s trip is motivated by an “internal factor” and will bring about no constructive consequences in connection with bilateral relations, the ministry said.

Japan said Thursday that Koizumi will view the disputed islands for five hours from a Japan Coast Guard patrol boat, approaching them from the eastern Hokkaido city of Nemuro after flying in from an Air Self-Defense Force base in Saitama Prefecture.

Government officials said earlier that the trip is aimed at providing momentum to territorial negotiations with Moscow before Russian President Vladimir Putin’s expected visit in February.

Koizumi reacted Tuesday in Tokyo to Moscow’s statement, saying the inspection is important on two counts: raising Japanese people’s awareness of the territorial dispute and showing Russia that Japan wants the islands returned.

“In Japan-Russia negotiations, it’s very important to have Russia clearly understand Japan’s stance,” Koizumi said.

The planned trip to view the islands has also been criticized at home as another grandstanding attempt by Koizumi to boost his popularity with the public, instead of an effort to encourage Russia to negotiate.