Putin claims 1956 pact does not specify sovereignty of isles: Abe

Kyodo, JIJI

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday that Russian President Vladimir Putin claims transferring the sovereignty of the islets at the center of their territorial dispute is “not written” in a 1956 agreement struck between Japan and the Soviet Union.

Abe said in an interview with Nippon Television after their summit Thursday and Friday that Putin had claimed the return of sovereignty was not contained in the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration.

The comment apparently was made at the summit, at which the two failed to narrow their differences over sovereignty issues.

The declaration says Russia will hand over Shikotan and the Habomai group, two of the four islands controlled by Moscow but claimed by Tokyo, after the conclusion of a postwar peace treaty with Japan. But the long-standing territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from sealing such a peace pact.

Japan claims the four islands were illegally seized by the Soviet Union after Tokyo surrendered in August 1945. Russia maintains the Soviet Union took the islands legitimately as a spoil of war.

When asked whether Japan has been asked to remove sanctions imposed on Russia in response to Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region in return for resolving the territorial dispute, Abe said he and Putin had not discussed such a condition.

In a separate interview with the ITAR-Tass news agency, Abe said he and Putin had agreed the two countries have “unlimited opportunities for development of relations in all areas in case of common effort.”

Meanwhile, in a recent interview with Jiji Press, a senior Russian official argued that Japanese firms slated to be involved in Japan-Russia economic activities under a special framework envisioned for the islands should pay taxes to Russia.

In the interview, held in Tokyo on Friday, Peter Shelakhaev, head of the Far East Investment and Export Agency, expressed hopes the proposed economic activities will come to fruition as soon as possible.

Abe and Putin agreed to launch talks on the joint initiative during the the summit, which ended Friday.

Shelakhaev said there are legal issues to be cleared before the special framework is established. He then demanded that taxes be paid to Russia.

The taxation issue may become a focal point at the talks, because allowing Moscow to collect taxes from Japanese firms on the islands would effectively amount to Tokyo’s recognition of Russian jurisdiction there, observers said.

After the Abe-Putin agreement, Japanese officials said that joint economic activities can get started on condition that Japan’s legal claim over what it calls the Northern Territories will not be hampered.

Meanwhile, Shelakhaev said Russia introduced tax incentives and eased regulations in its Far East region last year and that similar measures are likely to be implemented on the islands in the near future.

The tax breaks and deregulation are expected support the envisaged joint economic activities, he added.