MOSCOW – Japan and Russia agreed Friday to put their deadlocked peace treaty negotiations back on track on the sidelines of the Group of Eight Summit later this month in Canada, Japanese Foreign Ministry officials said.
Yasuo Saito, director general of the Foreign Ministry’s European Affairs Bureau, met with Alexander Losyukov, Russian vice foreign minister in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs, and another Russian official in Moscow. They agreed to hold talks more frequently on the issue, they said.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the summit. Saito and the Russian officials agreed to hold foreign ministerial talks on the sidelines of the G8 foreign ministerial meeting, the officials said.
The G8 summit is scheduled for June 26-27 in Kananaskis, Alberta, while the G8 foreign ministerial talks will be held June 12-13 in Whistler, British Columbia.
The Soviet Union occupied the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan, and the Habomai group of islets — all located off northeastern Hokkaido — at the end of World War II. The territorial row resulting from that occupation has prevented the two nations from signing a peace treaty.
Negotiations over the territorial dispute have been at a standstill because of the failure of the so-called two-track approach. That strategy seeks the return of the two smaller islands and the conclusion of a peace treaty, with the two nations discussing sovereignty of the two larger islands at a later date.
The approach was allegedly advocated by scandal-tainted lawmaker Muneo Suzuki.
The negotiations have also been affected by a series of scandals involving the Foreign Ministry and Suzuki, who had exerted strong influence over Japanese diplomacy toward Russia.
According to Japanese negotiation sources, Saito and the Russian officials reiterated that they will put priority on preparing for a visit to Russia by Koizumi this year.
But the two nations are becoming more divided on the issue. Moscow is reportedly skeptical that such a visit will take place by the end of the year.
Saito emphasized that Tokyo is maintaining its position of solving the issue of the four islands and concluding a peace treaty. He said it is important to continue negotiations based on past agreements and that the Russian officials agreed. , the Japanese officials said.
But the two sides stopped short of discussing specific ideas to resolve the long-standing territorial dispute, they added.
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