MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated that there is no room for compromise over the disputed islands off Hokkaido and called on Tokyo to “recognize” post-World War II “historic realities.”
Lavrov met Monday with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in Russia on a three-day visit to address the dispute over the four islands that were seized by Soviet troops just after Japan surrendered.
The two countries have never officially struck a peace treaty for World War II and have had bitter disputes over the islands for decades, hampering trade ties.
Kishida indicated in his remarks, which were translated into Russian, that the two countries should “create a mutually acceptable solution to the territorial issue” over the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islets.
“We had in-depth discussions about the territorial issue,” Kishida said at a joint news conference after meeting with Lavrov for almost three hours. “Minister Lavrov and I were able to share a view that our countries should find ways for a mutually acceptable solution.”
However, Lavrov appeared to reject the Japanese term for the islands itself.
“Neither the ‘Northern Territories’ of Japan nor the ‘Northern Territories’ of Russia are the subject of our dialogue. On our agenda is reaching the peace deal,” he said.
“Moving forward on this issue is possible only after we see clearly Japan’s recognition of historic realities. The work is difficult and the difference in positions is vast,” Lavrov said of peace talks, which Kishida and Lavrov agreed would nevertheless continue Oct. 8 by deputy foreign ministers.
Resumption of the talks between Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and his Russian counterpart, Igor Morgulov, could be a key step toward resolving the territorial spat. Sugiyama and Morgulov met in February, but their talks covered broader aspects of bilateral ties.
Previously, Tokyo and Moscow discussed the issue in January 2014, but the process was put on ice after Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine that March.
A visit last month by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to one of the islands was met with strong protests by Tokyo, reportedly even throwing Kishida’s visit into doubt.
Kishida renewed Japanese protests over repeated trips by Russian Cabinet members to some of the disputed islands.
He was quoted by a Japanese official as saying the trips were “extremely regrettable and unacceptable.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Medvedev’s visit to Etorofu, called Iturup by Russia, “conflicts with Japan’s position” and is “extremely regrettable.”
The two ministers on Monday also discussed the long-delayed visit by President Vladimir Putin to Japan, but Lavrov said that while the Kremlin has accepted the invitation, the specific date is up to Tokyo.
“It would be important to ensure that a new summit is filled with substance,” Lavrov said. “To pose preconditions for high-level meetings is hardly productive.”