• Kyodo

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Japan has rejected Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that it is responsible for stalling bilateral talks on a decades-long territorial dispute, and called for speeding up negotiations.

“There’s absolutely no fact that supports the claim the Japanese side has stopped the negotiations for concluding a (bilateral) postwar peace treaty,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Friday.

In Moscow on Thursday, Putin told reporters he is ready to resume talks with Japan over the isles under a 1956 Japan-Soviet Union joint declaration and blamed Japan for stalling such talks.

Putin has also said that Russia’s annexation of Crimea will not affect Russia’s diplomacy toward Japan, including the talks to conclude the peace pact.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry challenged Kishida’s comment in a statement, reiterating the country’s position to blame Japan for the effectively collapsed bilateral negotiations.

The dispute over the sovereignty of a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido has prevented the two countries from concluding a post-World War II peace treaty and forms an integral part of the negotiations for signing such a pact.

Japan is seeking recognition of its ownership of the islands — Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets.

Russo-Japanese ties, meanwhile, have been complicated by Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict, with Japan having joined Western powers in imposing economic sanctions on Russia for its annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine.

Kishida said Friday that at a deputy foreign minister-level meeting in Moscow in February, the Japanese side raised the peace treaty issue and discussed it with the Russian side.

“We hope Russia will seriously engage in the negotiations in line with an agreement made in April 2013,” he added.

In Friday’s statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tokyo for its part “cannot decide on a trip to Russia by Mr. Kishida for more than a year,” despite bilateral agreements on political contacts including a ministerial visit.

On the peace treaty issue that Kishida said was discussed by deputy ministers in February in Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said that “they did not have a meaningful discussion” on the topic.

The ministry said politicians of Kishida’s caliber “need to carefully treat their public statements.”

In a joint statement released after their meeting in Moscow two years ago, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin said they would speed up talks to “work out a solution acceptable to both sides over the peace treaty issue.”