Government officials must refrain from making comments suggesting Japan is willing to compromise in territorial negotiations and instead demand that Moscow return all four Russian-held islets off Hokkaido, a group of conservative professors and former diplomats said Thursday in Tokyo.

“A single careless comment can undo past efforts overnight,” the group, led by Kenichi Ito of Japan International Forum, said in a statement critical of former Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi. It was reported in early April that Yachi said Tokyo could settle for a partial return of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan islands and the Habomai islets.

The group said it will publish the statement in newspapers on May 11 — the day Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is slated to visit Japan.

“If the public does not resist making (compromising comments), it will give Russia the wrong impression. This is a critical moment for us,” said Ito, a former diplomat and professor emeritus at Aoyama Gakuin University.

Among the 87 to sign the statement are Liberal Democratic Party Lower House member Yuriko Koike and former Ambassador to the U.S. Yoshio Okawara.

“To give signs of compromise is an extremely poor way to pursue negotiations,” the statement reads. The authors insist that both legal and historical facts favor Japan’s position that Russia’s occupation of the islands is illegal.

Ito said the group concluded that Yachi’s comments were inappropriate after speaking with the former bureaucrat to confirm his intentions.

The group was also in touch with Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, who asked for changes in the statement, including removing accusations that Prime Minister Taro Aso compromised Japan’s position over the territorial row.

Tokyo and Moscow have not signed a peace treaty due to the dispute, which has been at a stalemate since 1956. Some have suggested taking a “realistic approach” and recover a portion of the territory if Russia proposes such a handover, as was indicated in the past.

Civil nuke pack eyed

MOSCOW (Kyodo) Moscow and Tokyo plan to sign a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits next month, diplomatic sources have said.

The two countries have struck a basic agreement on a pact that will pave the way for Tokyo to entrust Moscow with uranium enrichment and allow it to export the latest nuclear power plant to the country. Russia has been examining clauses on accepting inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to finalize the accord, the sources said.

In the past, Japan and Russia disagreed about the IAEA’s involvement. Japan called for strict examinations of Russia’s nuclear facilities to confirm that nuclear materials shipped from Japan will be used for peaceful purposes. Russia expressed reluctance to IAEA inspections on grounds that it is already a nuclear power.

Moscow has refused to shoulder the expenses for an IAEA inspection at a uranium enrichment plant in Siberia, but it recently made concessions and is expected to sign a deal with the Vienna-based watchdog, possibly by month’s end, officials of the state-run Rosatom Nuclear Energy State Corp. said.

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