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Japan and Russia agreed Monday to work on realizing a visit by Russian President Boris Yeltsin to Japan some time next spring, a Foreign Ministry official said. The agreement came during the first of two days of bilateral vice-ministerial talks in Tokyo under a joint peace treaty committee aiming to resolve a long-standing territorial dispute so a peace treaty can be concluded by the end of 2000, the official said. The Russian side, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin, explained that Yeltsin’s long-awaited visit has become extremely difficult due to Russia’s internal affairs, including the situation in Chechnya and an upcoming national assembly election this month, the official said. Yeltsin was originally scheduled to come to Japan last spring, and when that didn’t materialize, by the end of the year. Karasin stressed that Yeltsin is determined to make the Japan visit happen, saying that Yeltsin himself has been specifically instructing working level groups to prepare for the visit, the official said. The two sides also agreed that Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will visit Tokyo in January to work out the details of Yeltsin’s visit, the official said The joint peace treaty committee, established at the Nov. 1998 bilateral summit in Moscow between Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, has two panels. One focuses on proposing national borders for a chain of Russian islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan, while the other studies economic activities that can be jointly undertaken on the islands, which were taken by Moscow at the end of World War II. The disputed islands are known in Japan as Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets and in Russia as the Southern Kurils. During Monday’s session at the demarcation panel, the two sides only clarified their points of argument on the territorial dispute, the official said, declining to comment on further details. It is believed that the Russian side has proposed that the demarcation issue be shelved for future negotiations and that the two sides sign a broad-based treaty of peace and friendship that confirms their resolve to tackle the border issue. The Japanese side has maintained that drawing national borders for the islands must be agreed before signing a peace treaty and that the timing of the their return can be left for later negotiations. At the panel on joint economic activities, the two sides reaffirmed further efforts to promote joint fish farming around the islands under a framework that would not harm each other’s legal position on the islands, the official said. Overall, both sides appreciated the progress in their bilateral relations in the last several months, citing the visa-free visit to the disputed islands this summer by former residents of the islands and their families, the official said. During today’s session, the two sides are expected to discuss their international concerns, such as the situation on the Korean Peninsula and Kosovo as well as global arms reductions and a ban on nuclear testing, the official said.

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