• Kyodo

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Japan and Russia will likely be able to put needless squabbles behind them and hold practical negotiations over a long-standing territorial dispute, legislative leader Gennadiy Seleznev said Tuesday.

Seleznev, chairman of the State Duma, expressed hope that talks would move forward if the sides ensure the dispute does not obstruct the development of overall bilateral relations.

“Our discussions every so often run into the territorial problem, and we forget about the other issues,” Seleznev, 55, said in an interview with Kyodo News prior to a visit to Japan starting Sunday. “Wars of words and discussions are fine, but if we make sure this does not get in the way of development in the relationship, we can anticipate talks will move forward.”

The lower chamber chief, however, noted that he does not expect the gap between Tokyo and Moscow to begin to close any time soon on the row over ownership of islands off Hokkaido.

“At this point, it is difficult (to resolve the issue). The Russian public now holds the view that it cannot hand over the territory” to Japan, he said, adding that doing so could create conflicts with other countries over other areas in Russia.

“But unlike in the past, we have departed from the needless territorial squabbles and excessive emotionally charged arguments, and reached a stage in which we can hold practical dialogue on the matter,” the native of the Sverdlovsk region said.

He said the talks over the four island territories — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and Habomai — will be successful if Japan and Russia work on advancing relations in all areas, including the economic field.

As an example, he raised the idea of Japan investing in the construction of an auto-manufacturing factory or a wood-processing facility in Russia’s Far East.

The Northern Territories, which Russia calls the Southern Kurils, have been occupied by the Soviet Union since the end of World War II. The row has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

Seleznev said a joint action plan being prepared for signing by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President Vladimir Putin when they meet in Moscow in January would be “extremely beneficial to confidence-building.”

The action plan, expected to define Russo-Japanese relations, will include provisions for reactivating bilateral political dialogue, making efforts to conclude a peace treaty, fostering cooperation in the international arena and strengthening economic relations.

Seleznev, who was elected to the State Duma in 1993 and chosen as its chairman three years later, said his visit to Japan is aimed at fostering political and economic dialogue between the two countries through efforts by their legislative branches.

The Duma chief will lead a delegation of members of the lower chamber for a five-day visit to Japan at the invitation of House of Representatives Speaker Tamisuke Watanuki.

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