National / Politics

Foreign Minister Taro Kono to visit Moscow in mid-May for Japan-Russia peace treaty talks

Kyodo, JIJI

Foreign Minister Taro Kono plans to visit Moscow in mid-May for a meeting with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to advance postwar peace treaty talks that have stalled over a territorial dispute, a Japanese government source said Wednesday.

The two-day visit from May 11 has been scheduled in the hopes of making progress in the negotiations ahead of a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin in June for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.

The two foreign ministers last met in February in Munich.

Japan and Russia have been unable to sign a peace treaty more than 70 years after the end of World War II, as they remain at odds over the sovereignty of Russian-controlled islands off the coast of Hokkaido, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Japan maintains the Soviet Union seized the islands illegally following Japan’s surrender in 1945, while Russia argues it legitimately acquired them as the outcome of the war.

The foreign ministers are also expected to hold another meeting less than a month later to coincide with security talks involving the countries’ defense ministers to be held over two days from May 30.

By holding meetings in quick succession, the government hopes to push the negotiations forward so that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can reach some kind of agreement with Putin at a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit.

Separately, another source said the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is in the final stages of arranging the first of a series of regular exchanges with the United Russia party for mid-May in Tokyo.

The LDP aims to build trust with the Russian ruling party in order to assist Abe’s efforts in the negotiations on the territorial dispute.

A United Russia delegation for the exchange events, possibly including close aides to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, also head of the party, is expected to visit Japan on May 14 to 18, the source said. Members of the mission are expected to meet with LDP heavyweights, including Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai, and may also take a trip to Kyoto.

At their meeting in Moscow in April last year, Nikai and Medvedev signed a pact on LDP-United Russia exchanges, under which the two parties would discuss Japan-Russia relations and pressing international issues and conduct mutual visits by their members.

Abe and Putin agreed last November to accelerate their talks based on a 1956 joint declaration that mentions the return of the smaller two of the four islands — Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — once a peace treaty is concluded, but so far there has been little progress.