Foreign Minister Makiko Tanaka on Tuesday criticized former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori for saying on a television program that Japan and Russia had agreed to set up two frameworks to discuss four islands at the center of a sovereignty dispute.

According to Tanaka, a Cabinet member said during a ministerial conference Tuesday morning that Mori should not discuss delicate policy issues only weeks after stepping down as prime minister. “I agree with that,” Tanaka told reporters.

The minister was later identified as Defense Agency chief Gen Nakatani.

Mori said on a TV Asahi program Sunday that the two countries had agreed to discuss conditions for the return of the Habomai islets and Shikotan Island under one framework, while discussions regarding the fate of the two larger islands — Kunashiri and Etorofu — would be under another framework.

The Russian Foreign Ministry reportedly denied that such a pact was reached.

Tanaka, who said the ministry’s stance remains unchanged, asserted Japan and Russia must solve the sovereignty issue of all four islands, indicating Japan should not take a two-step approach by separately seeking the return of the two smaller islands.

According to Justice Minister Mayumi Moriyama, who was present at the same ministerial meeting, Nakatani also questioned the wisdom of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s decision to privately meet with Mori and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda just weeks after declaring that he had left the Mori faction.

Nakatani reportedly argued that such a meeting contradicted what Koizumi had previously said.

Koizumi said the meeting was necessary for transition purposes.

State letter delivered

MOSCOW (Kyodo) A suprapartisan group of Japanese lawmakers on a visit to Russia have handed over a letter for Russian President Vladimir Putin from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the group said Tuesday.

The letter, given to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, describes the Koizumi administration’s policy on four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, sources close to the six-member mission said.

The letter says Japan aims to sign a peace treaty with Russia after clarifying the ownership of all four islands.

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