• Kyodo

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A leader in the Russian Far East on Thursday denied media reports made earlier this week that he supports the return to Japan of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, the ITAR-Tass news agency said.

The agency quoted Khabarovsk Territorial Gov. Viktor Ishaev as saying he “adheres to an even tougher stand than” Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue.

Putin has acknowledged a 1956 Japan-Soviet Union joint declaration that states Shikotan Island and the Habomai islets — two of the four Russian-held islands at the center of the dispute — will be handed over to Japan after a peace treaty is signed. Putin, however, has not addressed the issue of ownership of the other two islands.

Ishaev also said that he “did not touch either on the problem of these islands or on Russia-Japan relations as a whole” in a report on the Far East’s development strategy delivered to the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow on Tuesday, ITAR-Tass said.

Interfax news agency reported that Ishaev told the Moscow conference that there were “irresistible historical reasons” for Russia to return the islands, and that settling the territorial issue was a priority for Japan.

The dispute over the islands of Etorofu, Shikotan, Kunashiri and the Habomai islets has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a peace treaty since the end of World War II. The islands were seized by Soviet troops at the end of the war.

In previous media reports, the governor also said Japan was the world’s largest foreign investor and that Japanese investment in the Russian Far East would follow the dispute being resolved.

To benefit from such economic gains, the return of the islands — which Russia calls the Southern Kurils — is “necessary,” Ishaev was reported by Interfax as saying.

The territorial issue “must be resolved,” he told ITAR-Tass. “But it should be dealt with as a separate problem, not linked in any way with economic and other relations” between the two countries.

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