National / Politics

Russian and Japanese foreign ministers fail to make breakthrough on island issue in Tokyo talks

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

A breakthrough in the long-standing territorial dispute over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido remained elusive Friday during a meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers in Tokyo.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said only that the two have “made clear the outline of issues we should overcome” over the dispute.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking through a Japanese-language translator, said there are many issues still to deal with over the territorial issue.

Lavrov also revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet on June 29 on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.

The two leaders had already been expected to meet in Osaka but this is the first time a specific date has been announced. Kono and Lavrov met to lay the groundwork for the planned meeting.

During Friday’s joint press announcement with Lavrov, Kono said the two had engaged in “very frank discussions” and that he had “clearly explained” Tokyo’s views about the territorial dispute. Moscow’s take on the situation is substantially different on certain points, Kono said.

However, Kono did not elaborate further, saying he and Lavrov agreed not to disclose concrete details of their talks.

The islands, which were seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of World War II, have been a major issue affecting ties between the two countries, and no peace treaty has ever been signed.

They are known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Abe has long tried to resolve the territorial issue and has had dozens of meetings with Putin where he has proposed joint economic projects on the four islands in a bid to boost relations between Tokyo and Moscow.

But according to Japanese Foreign Ministry sources, territorial talks between the two countries have been deadlocked for months.

On Thursday, Kono and Lavrov took part in a meeting along with the two countries’ defense ministers to discuss regional security issues.

After the “two-plus-two” meeting, Kono told reporters the Japanese side raised concerns over a recent missile-firing exercise and the deployment of a jet fighter unit to the disputed islands.

Such military buildup on the islands is “unacceptable” given Japan’s claim of sovereignty over the territory, Kono said during a joint press announcement on Thursday.

In response, Lavrov said that the military activities were conducted on territory under “Russian sovereignty” and that they adhered to international law.

During Thursday’s meeting, Lavrov expressed concern over Japan’s program to strengthen its “global missile defense” capability, referring to Tokyo’s plan to set up the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system in the prefectures of Akita and Yamaguchi, which Japan says is a move to defend against North Korean ballistic missiles but Moscow has argued is a threat to its security.

In response, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya argued that Aegis Ashore is a “purely defensive system” and will not pose any threat to Russia or other countries.

Both Kono and Lavrov said the two countries agreed to push for the denuclearization of North Korea.

“Russia’s position on the situation of the Korean Peninsula is very close to that of Japan,” Lavrov said.

Two-plus-two meetings between the two nations were launched in November 2013 in a bid to build up ties between the two countries and possibly promote talks over the territorial dispute. Thursday’s meeting was the fourth following the one held in July last year in Moscow.

GET THE BEST OF THE JAPAN TIMES
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5