Japan’s policy of seeking a peace treaty with Russia by the end of 2000 is unchanged, despite political and economic difficulties in Russia, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said Wednesday.

The relationship between Japan and Russia is at an important stage, said Obuchi, adding that he will make further efforts toward a peace treaty by visiting Russia in November. Obuchi made the remarks at a ceremony to launch the Japan-Russia Friendship Forum 21, headed by Lower House member Yoshio Sakurauchi. The forum is comprised of Diet members and members of the business community who are acquainted with Russian affairs.

Obuchi said that Russian President Boris Yeltsin proposed establishing friendship organizations in both countries while he was visiting Moscow last July. He said that deepening relations and understanding between Japan and Russia is a key to improving bilateral relations, adding that he hopes the forum will help promote mutual exchanges and understanding.

The two countries are currently making efforts to conclude a peace treaty by 2000 by resolving the dispute over four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido. Russian Ambassador to Japan Alexander Panov said that political dialogue between the two countries and talks on the peace treaty are deepening, despite political and economic difficulties in Russia.

He said that the current difficulties are the hardest it has faced and that Russia highly values Japan’s cooperation and assistance.

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