Japan hopes Putin win will help resolve dispute

Kyodo

Japan hopes Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s victory in the country’s presidential election will help resolve the long-standing bilateral territorial dispute over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said Monday.

Tokyo also aims to further boost cooperation with Russia as Putin has reportedly voiced a strong desire to settle the territorial row in a mutually acceptable manner, Fujimura said at a press conference.

Japan maintains its position regarding the disputed islands and will continue to discuss the issue with Russia in a “quiet atmosphere,” Fujimura said.

“We want to settle the territorial issue based on past agreements and documents, and the principles of law and justice,” he added.

Japan has long sought the return of the disputed islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.

Putin said in a recent meeting with foreign reporters that Japan’s territorial claim to the four Russian-held islands goes beyond the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration, in which Moscow vowed to return two of the four islands to Japan after signing a bilateral peace treaty.

The remark was interpreted as indicating Russia would not make any concessions beyond the declaration.

A Japanese source said, “It’s difficult to find a solution both Japan and Russia can accept.”

In order to move ahead with talks on the territorial issue, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is likely to hold multiple meetings with Putin, government officials said.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba also plans to visit Russia at an early date, they added.

Soviet forces seized the islands following Japan’s surrender in World War II. The territorial row has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

In 2001, Putin signed the Irkutsk Statement with then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, confirming the validity of the 1956 joint statement.

Putin served as Russian president for eight years from 2000. He will replace current President Dmitry Medvedev in May.