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Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agree to speed up start of joint economic ventures on disputed isles

Kyodo

Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agreed Friday to accelerate work on starting joint economic activities on Russian-held islands claimed by Japan off Hokkaido.

At a meeting in Munich, they also decided to meet again in Tokyo on March 21 to prepare for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Russia in May and his summit with President Vladimir Putin, Japanese officials said.

Kono lodged a protest with Lavrov over a Russian military exercise being held on the isles, as well as over Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s approval of military activities at a civilian airport on the one called Etorofu, which Russia calls Iturup, they said.

The Japanese and Russian dignitaries are in Germany to participate in the Munich Security Conference, which began on Friday and runs until Sunday.

“I want the two of us to make preparations between ourselves so we can move forward various bilateral projects during Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Russia in May,” Kono said at the outset of the talks, which was open to the press.

“This is a good opportunity to see how far the agreements between our leaders have progressed,” Lavrov said.

“Our shared task is to make (Abe’s visit) a success, and we want to give our all to make it effective and fruitful,” he said.

Abe and Putin agreed in December 2016 to start discussions about joint projects on the islands, which Japan hopes could eventually lead to the conclusion of the territorial row.

They then agreed last September to conduct joint economic activities in five areas — aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind power and waste reduction.

Both countries agree the projects can only go ahead under a special scheme, yet to be devised, that will not compromise each other’s legal positions on the sovereignty of the isles.

The islets were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The dispute has kept Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty to formally end the war.

Later in the day, Kono met with Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze and both agreed to improve economic ties, Japanese officials said.

He also talked by telephone with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Both confirmed that they need to increase pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program, they said.