Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said Tuesday he will recall the Japanese ambassador to Moscow in the wake of President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Kunashiri Island, one of the four Russia-held islands that Japan wants returned.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov meanwhile was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Medvedev is planning to visit more of the islands and Russia is not planning to recall its ambassador to Tokyo, saying Maehara’s move was “a purely Japanese matter.”
Maehara also called Medvedev’s contentious visit Monday “extremely regrettable.”
“I have decided to temporarily recall Japanese Ambassador to Russia (Masaharu) Kono,” Maehara said, refusing to clarify if the move constituted a protest.
He told a news conference he was having Kono return temporarily to Tokyo to hear details about the first visit by a Russian or Soviet leader to any of the four islands seized from Japan by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II, adding he and Prime Minister Naoto Kan made the recall decision together.
Details of Kono’s return, including when and for how long, have yet to be determined, Maehara said Tuesday afternoon.
The spat with Russia comes as Japan prepares to host the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in mid-November, which Medvedev is expected to attend.
Maehara said Tuesday a bilateral summit between Medvedev and Kan has not been set yet.
But he stressed that Japan’s ultimate goal remains to move the bilateral relationship forward.
“On diplomacy toward Russia, we (intend to) resolve the territorial issue and conclude a peace treaty to strengthen Japan-Russia relations,” Maehara said. “The main direction has not changed.”
Soviet forces seized the islands of Shikotan, Kunashiri and Etorofu and the Habomai islets at the end of the war and later evicted the Japanese living on them.