• Kyodo

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Japan and Russia will hold another round of vice ministerial-level talks in Tokyo on Feb. 6 to seek progress on a long-standing territorial row over a group of islands off Hokkaido, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said Tuesday.

Kono said Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Mori and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov will further discuss joint economic activities on the isles and lay the groundwork for higher-level talks later this year.

“We hope these will serve as constructive talks in anticipation of future Japan-Russia dialogue, including a visit by Prime Minister Abe to Russia that should take place in May and the foreign ministers’ meeting to be held beforehand,” Kono said.

Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in December 2016 to begin joint activities on the island chain, which stretches north off Japan’s northernmost main island.

Tokyo hopes the projects will pave the way to settling the issue of the isles’ sovereignty, while Moscow’s main motivation is thought to be economic.

Collectively called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group were seized by the Soviet Union in August 1945 after Japan surrendered in World War II.

The disagreement over their sovereignty has kept Japan and Russia from signing a postwar peace treaty.

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