National / Politics

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono may meet Russian counterpart in mid-January ahead of summit

Kyodo

Japan and Russia are making arrangements for their foreign ministers to meet on Jan. 14 in Moscow to lay the groundwork for a summit intended to accelerate peace treaty talks, Japanese government sources said Friday.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov were tasked earlier this month with overseeing the forthcoming negotiations.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed in November to step up talks toward concluding a postwar peace treaty based on a 1956 bilateral accord, raising expectations of progress in the long-standing territorial dispute over islands off Hokkaido.

Abe and Putin are expected to meet in Moscow before the Japanese leader visits Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, the sources said.

The territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty. The 1956 accord refers to the handover from the former Soviet Union to Japan of Shikotan and the Habomai islet group following the conclusion of a treaty. The other disputed islands are Etorofu and Kunashiri.

At a news conference, Putin questioned Thursday the level of Japan’s sovereignty, citing the fact that reclamation work to build a replacement facility for a U.S. military base in Okinawa has been progressing despite local opposition.

Russia is seen as concerned about the prospect of a U.S. military presence on the disputed islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Japan, on the other hand, lodged a protest with Russia earlier this week over the construction of barracks for Russian troops on Etorofu and Kunashiri.

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