MARRAKESH – Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba expressed hope Saturday that former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori will play a role in negotiations with Russia on the long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries.
Genba told reporters traveling with him in Morocco that Mori “is the only person in (Japan’s) current political circles who is acquainted with” Vladimir Putin, who is set to return to the Russian presidential post Monday.
The foreign minister said Mori, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, the largest opposition party, which relinquished power to the Democratic Party of Japan in the 2009 general election, has “deep insights” into the territorial issue.
“Foreign affairs should be carried out by all political parties, and I hope he would play a certain role,” Genba said, adding that he is periodically in contact with Mori.
Mori served as Japan’s prime minister from April 2000 to April 2001, during which time he proposed to Putin the return of two of the four Russian-controlled islands off Hokkaido first, ahead of the remaining two islands, in a bid to move forward negotiations on the dispute.
Genba indicated that the proposal is in line with Japan’s position that all four islands belong to it, saying that the statement signed by Mori and Putin in Irkutsk in 2001 to confirm the validity of the 1956 Japan-Soviet Union joint declaration, which stipulates Moscow would return two of the four islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty, “does not contradict” the stance.
The Japan-Soviet document says Moscow will return Shikotan Island and the Habomai islet group to Japan after the two sides conclude a post-World War II peace pact. Under Mori’s proposal, the issue of ownership of the remaining two islands —Etorofu and Kunashiri — would be discussed in parallel.
The current Japanese government is considering sounding out Putin on the possibility of proceeding with negotiations based on the proposal, according to government sources.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is mulling sending Mori as a special envoy to Russia after Putin takes office, with plans to convey his seriousness about resolving the dispute, before or after Noda and Putin meet on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in the United States in mid-May, the sources said.
The dispute over the islands, which were seized by the Soviets following Japan’s surrender in the war on Aug. 15, 1945 and are known in Japan as the Northern Territories and in Russia as the Southern Kurils, has prevented the two countries from signing the peace treaty.