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Former Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi denied Thursday that he suggested he backs the idea of Russia returning “three and a half” instead of all four of the islands off Hokkaido and apologized for the confusion.

“I did not make any comments suggesting that I personally think it is OK that 3 1/2 islands be returned to Japan (instead of four),” said Yachi, now a special government envoy, at the House of Councilors Budget Committee.

But he also offered an apology, saying that some of his remarks, reported by the daily Mainichi Shimbun last month, might have given the public a false impression.

“My basic stance is that (Japan should) solve the sovereignty issue of the four islands and then conclude a peace treaty with Russia,” he said, emphasizing that his position is totally in line with the government’s.

Yet, he also suggested that the two countries need “a new approach” to resolving the deadlock that has prevented them from signing a peace treaty since the end of World War II.

“Japan and Russia should map out a strategic framework that includes bilateral cooperation in the fields of energy and environment, and then tackle the territorial dispute within the framework,” he said.

In mid-April, the Mainichi Shimbun carried an interview with Yachi in which he suggested that the reversion of half of Etorofu Island, the biggest of the four, and the three other islands is enough in terms of area.

Yachi’s reported remarks run counter to Tokyo’s call for control of all four islands — Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group.

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