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Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara plans to make a three-day trip to Moscow from Feb. 10 and hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, government sources said Sunday.

Maehara wants Russia to soften its stance on a territorial row over four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan, amid bilateral tension following a visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Kunashiri, one of the four islands, in November, the sources said.

The two governments are making arrangements for the visit with an eye to holding a ministerial-level meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues, they said.

Since Prime Minister Naoto Kan is planning to visit Russia for talks with Medvedev, Maehara wants to pave the way for the top-level meeting, they said.

Maehara is hoping to find common ground on issues such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program and Japan-Russia economic exchanges to improve bilateral relations, because Russia appears wary of the prospect of Japan raising the territorial issue, the sources said.

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