• Kyodo

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Russia told Japan on Tuesday it is ready to hold working-level talks to resolve a dispute stemming from deals Moscow made that allow other countries to fish in waters around Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

First Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Avdeyev made the comment in a meeting with Japanese Ambassador Minoru Tanba, who lodged a fresh protest with Russia over the issue, a Japanese Embassy official said.

Avdeyev was quoted as telling Tanba that Russia is aware of Japan’s concern over the issue.

Avdeyev met with Tanba on behalf of Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, who is on vacation.

Japan has repeatedly protested Russia’s decision to grant North Korea, South Korea and Ukraine rights to fish for saury in waters near the islands off Hokkaido that were seized from Japan by Soviet troops at the end of the war.

Russia, however, has maintained that its fishing arrangements with other countries are purely commercial in nature and has said it does not want to politicize the matter.

The fishing row originated with agreement between Russia and South Korea in December allowing South Korea to fish for saury near the islands. Moscow has struck similar deals with North Korea and Ukraine.

The dispute over the ownership of the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai islets has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a peace treaty. In Tokyo, Vice Foreign Minister Yoshiji Nogami on Wednesday filed a renewed protest from the Japanese government.

Nogami met Russian Ambassador to Japan Alexandre Panov at the Foreign Ministry and told him to inform his government that the issue is damaging Japanese people’s sentiments toward Russia.

Panov replied that Russia hopes to settle the matter through dialogue to prevent it from damaging ties. He added that he believes the two countries will be able to find a way out.

Russia has infuriated Japan by granting saury catch quotas to other countries, including South and North Korea, in waters around the disputed islands.

Tokyo has been claiming its sovereignty over the islands since they were seized by the former Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II.

On bilateral talks for concluding a World War II peace treaty, Panov noted that Russia and Japan do not share entirely the same position on the issue.

The territorial row has been hindering the two nations’ efforts to sign the peace treaty.

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