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Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has pledged to resolve the territorial dispute involving a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

“It is quite regrettable that the ownership issue of the four northern islands has not been settled after entering the new century. I am determined to make every effort to resolve the territorial issue as soon as possible and conclude a peace treaty (with Russia),” Mori said Wednesday during a meeting in Tokyo.

Resolving the territorial row will benefit not only Japan and Russia but will further peace and stability in the whole Asia-Pacific region, Mori told participants at the government-sponsored meeting to push for a resolution to the dispute.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono said at the same event that Japan and Russia have agreed to continue negotiations over the ownership issue and to conclude a peace treaty based on a set of accords and declarations.

Former Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, state minister on issues pertaining to the disputed territories, said talks of this nature have continued, although a peace treaty was not realized by the end of 2000 as was targeted.

In November 1997 during his tenure as prime minister, Hashimoto and then Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed in Krasnoyarsk, eastern Siberia, that Japan and Russia would strive to resolve the dispute and sign a peace treaty by the end of 2000.

The government has hosted meetings aimed at resolving the dispute annually since 1981, inviting former residents of the islands to attend.

This year’s meeting, held at the Kudan Kaikan hall in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward, was the 21st of its kind.

Wednesday’s meeting also fell on the day for pushing awareness of the islands. This commemorative date was chosen in 1981 to mark the day in 1855 when Japan and Russia signed a friendship treaty defining the border separating the two countries. The islands were recognized as Japanese territory at that time.

The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai islets were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II.

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