Islands row must be resolved: Russian envoy

by Jun Hongo

Japan and Russia can and must resolve their territorial dispute and forge a peace treaty to ensure bilateral and regional prosperity, the speaker of the Russian Council said Thursday in Tokyo.

Sergey Mironov, who heads the upper house of the Russian parliament, told reporters that overcoming the row over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido must not be left for future generations to resolve.

The dispute over the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets has remained an obstacle to Tokyo and Moscow signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities.

“Unfortunately, the issue still exists. It is a complicated matter,” Mironov said at the Japan National Press Club, adding, however, that the two sides must avoid making extreme claims and pursue mutual understanding through exchanges on all levels.

“We are ready for sincere discussions,” Mironov said, noting the Tokyo-Moscow bond has a long history and is pivotal for both sides.

The St. Petersburg native, who also leads Russian opposition party Fair Russia, arrived in Japan Tuesday following his appearance at the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Laos.

During a meeting with Prime Minister Taro Aso Wednesday evening, the two sides agreed that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will visit Japan shortly.

“I am confident that Prime Minister Putin’s visit to Japan in the near future will become an incentive” for the two sides to strengthen ties, he said.

During the news conference, Mironov expressed hope that U.S. President-elect Barack Obama will reinforce bilateral ties with Russia, explaining that building a close partnership is vital for both Moscow and Washington.

Mironov also blamed Ukraine for the gas dispute that has caused shortages of gas supplies across Europe.