Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga on Monday denied a media report that the government is discussing jointly administering with Russia the disputed islands off Hokkaido as it seeks a breakthrough deal on a row that has prevented the two nations from inking a peace treaty to formally end World War II.
The Nikkei financial daily reported Monday that Moscow has already been informed of some details about such a proposal, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hoping to kick off negotiations on the plan with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at a summit slated for Dec. 15 in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Abe’s home turf.
The dispute has long been an obstacle to the two nations signing a peace deal. The four islands have been under the administration of Russia, where they are known as the Southern Kurils, since the former Soviet Union took control of them at the war’s end.
Suga denied the Nikkei report, and maintained the government’s stance that Japan will sign a peace treaty only after resolving the fate of all four islands.
While the Nikkei said it was unclear which islands would be put under joint administration, the treatment of the bigger islands of Etorofu and Kunashiri has been one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the dispute.
While Russia upholds the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration — in which Russia agreed to hand over the smaller Habomai islet group and the island of Shikotan — Japan has argues that the status of all four islands must be settled before a peace treaty can be signed.
To break this diplomatic deadlock, Abe and Putin agreed that “a new approach” was needed when they met at the southern Russian resort town of Sochi in May.
Whether Russia would even accept a joint-administration plan remains unknown.
In 2012, Putin said that the dispute must end in a hikiwake, the Japanese term for a draw in judo parlance. But putting any island under a joint-administration system might not appeal to Russia, which claims lawful control of the four islands.
Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador to Japan Evgeny Afanasiev on Monday introduced a message from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who said that more cooperation between the two countries will be seen at the summit talks, including development and economic tie-ups.
The ambassador read the message during a forum at the Russian Embassy ahead of celebrations marking the 60th anniversary Wednesday of the 1956 joint declaration that normalized the two countries’ diplomatic relations.
Lavrov’s comments came after Abe proposed an eight-point economic plan, which has been a driving force in the peace treaty negotiations, during the May talks with Putin in Sochi.
Liberal Democratic Party Vice President Masahiko Komura also indicated he has high hopes for the summit and said Abe and Putin have forged a personal relationship, which is necessary for the negotiations go move forward.
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