Influential former Diet member Muneo Suzuki, an unofficial adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Russian affairs, argued Wednesday that Japan should take “a realistic approach” on the reversion of four disputed islands off Hokkaido, first asking for some of the islets rather than taking an all-at-once approach.

Suzuki, head of the Hokkaido-based New Party Daichi, made the remarks during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Tokyo. Suzuki has met Abe six times this year to discuss the long-standing Northern Territories issue, the former lawmaker said.

Suzuki declined to comment at the news conference when questioned whether Abe held similar views on the issue.

But just a day earlier, Suzuki said during a party attended by Abe in Tokyo that he and the prime minister “had a shared understanding” on how to solve the territorial dispute, reports said. Suzuki did not elaborate further.

Suzuki is known as an advocate of the “two-track” approach to the issue, which calls for the initial return of Shikotan and the Habomai islets and then continues negotiations over the remaining two islands, Kunashiri and Etorofu.

“If you keep sticking to the sovereignty issue of the four islets, no progress will be made,” Suzuki said at the FCCJ. “I believe the prime minister has some ideas to break this stalemate.”

Abe has met Russian President Vladimir Putin a number of times in recent months to discuss the territorial dispute, which has prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty more than 70 years after the end of World War II.

Abe appeared to be trying to win concessions from Putin by offering large-scale economic development assistance to the Russian Far East.

Putin has meanwhile argued that neither country should been seen as a winner in the dispute, instead calling for “a draw.”

Putin is currently scheduled to visit Abe’s home turf in Yamaguchi Prefecture in December. That meeting is expected to be the final showdown in the ongoing Abe-Putin territorial negotiations.

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