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Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka denied a media report that Japan is considering proposing an interim treaty with Russia to ensure the return of two of the four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

“It is a totally groundless report,” Nonaka told a regular news conference. “If such a message is conveyed to Russia, it would cause a serious problem not only to our diplomatic relationship but also to our national interests. It’s truly regrettable.”

A Japanese daily reported Wednesday that the government plans to propose the return of Shikotan Island and the Habomai group of islets in the interim report and to continue talks for the remaining two islands, Kunashiri and Etorofu.

Japan and Russia have been working to conclude a peace treaty by 2000 in line with an agreement in November 1997 between then-Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Because the two sides’ positions over the long-standing territorial issue are still far apart and it is considered difficult to strike the peace treaty by 2000, Japan plans to propose the interim treaty to push the negotiations ahead, according to the report.

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