MOSCOW – Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed Saturday to continue talks on concluding a peace treaty to end World War II until the summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin takes place later this month.
“It’s not easy to bring closer the principal positions of the parties; the problem is complicated,” Lavrov said at a joint news conference following the talks in Moscow, underscoring the difficulty in resolving a dispute over islands off Hokkaido that are held by Russia but claimed by Japan.
Lavrov also said that there should not be excessive expectations for immediate progress in settling the issue and that bilateral work will continue and be reported to the two leaders, who will meet on Dec. 15 and 16 in Japan.
In their third meeting this year and the final direct ministerial talks before the Abe-Putin summit, Kishida also vowed efforts to “overcome the differences in positions of Japan and Russia and conclude the peace treaty by a mutually acceptable resolution.”
The dispute over the islands has prevented the two neighbors from signing a peace treaty to formally end the war.
Abe hopes to advance the territorial and treaty issues when he meets with Putin, although Russia asserts that it seized the islands legitimately as a result of the war.
On economic cooperation currently underway based on an eight-point plan Abe proposed to Putin in May, Kishida said work is progressing ahead of Putin’s visit to Japan.
Lavrov said the two sides are planning to seal agreements in areas including economics, trade, culture and science when Putin visits Japan.
Abe presented the plan, which includes Japanese support for developing the medical and energy sectors in Russia, in an effort to move the territorial talks forward.
Russia’s ITAR-Tass news agency reported that Lavrov told Kishida at the outset of their meeting that bilateral economic cooperation projects, if implemented, will bring the relationship between the two countries to a new level.
“We continue working on the so-called Shinzo Abe Plan of eight items and also on the Russian list of priority projects,” Lavrov was quoted as saying. “Implementation of those will bring our relations to a new level.”
At the news conference, Lavrov also said Japan and Russia have set up an informal working-level committee and are in talks over the possibility of engaging in joint economic activities on the disputed islands, after Putin agreed to Abe’s proposal that Tokyo wants to consider what it can do.
The Russian minister said he and Kishida also discussed security issues.
Lavrov said he told Kishida that the deployment of U.S. missile defense systems in the Asia-Pacific region is a threat.
With the meeting taking place after Russia’s reported deployment of anti-ship missile systems on two of the disputed islands late last month, Kishida lodged a protest with Lavrov, saying the deployment goes against Japan’s position on the islands, according to a Japanese official who was at the meeting.
The ministers also agreed to coordinate closely to halt North Korea’s nuclear and missile development programs and confirmed the importance of heightening the effectiveness of the U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution adopted Wednesday in response to Pyongyang’s fifth and largest nuclear test in September, the official said.
Among other global issues, Kishida expressed strong concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria and urged Russia, which backs the Syrian government led by President Bashar Assad, to play a constructive role, the official said.
Kishida held a meeting with Putin on Friday in St. Petersburg, in which he called for progress on the territorial row at the upcoming summit. In the meeting, Putin gave a positive assessment of recent developments in bilateral ties.
Ahead of Kishida’s talks with Putin and Lavrov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, who is in charge of peace treaty negotiations with Japan, said Friday that for the talks to move forward Japan needs to recognize Russian sovereignty over the disputed islands, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.