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Japan has offered a compromise proposal in a long-standing territorial row with Russia under which Moscow will continue to retain the four disputed islands off Hokkaido for a transitional period as long as it confirms their sovereignty belongs to Tokyo, government sources said April 20.

The proposal was made by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto to Russian President Boris Yeltsin during their “no-necktie” summit Sunday in the seaside resort of Kawana, Shizuoka Prefecture.

Under the proposal, Japan and Russia will pursue negotiations for drawing up a demarcation line between the two countries, the sources said. If the line is set north of the disputed islands — Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan and the Habomai islets — Japan will provisionally allow Russia to maintain effective control over the territories for a certain period, the sources said.

Such an approach will enable Japan to agree to a Russian proposal for joint economic development of the islands on a full-scale basis, according to the sources.

Tokyo and Moscow have yet to conclude a peace treaty formally ending World War II because of their dispute over the islands, which were seized by the Soviet Union at the war’s end.

Although Moscow’s position over the issue has made some progress over the years, public opinion in Russia is strongly opposed to Japan’s demands for the return of the islands. Hashimoto’s proposal is apparently aimed at easing Russia’s stance and finding a compromise.

At a joint news conference with Yeltsin on Sunday, Hashimoto said he presented a “serious” new proposal concerning their efforts to conclude a peace treaty. But both leaders declined to elaborate, and Yeltsin only said he will consider the proposal seriously.

In the morning, Hashimoto himself hinted that his Sunday proposal concerned the drawing of the Japan-Russia demarcation line north of the disputed islands.

Hashimoto, talking to reporters at the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, referred to his New Year’s Day speech in which he said there would be no peace treaty without a demarcation line between the two countries.

“There will be no peace treaty without determining a borderline,” Hashimoto said then. “I believe a peace treaty will confirm Japan’s sovereignty over the four islands. We will devote all our energies to achieving this.”

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