NEW YORK – Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, agreed Wednesday to develop bilateral ties by advancing negotiations on a peace treaty to formally end World War II hostilities, a Japanese official said.
“I’m eager to talk with you on issues including promoting our joint economic activities” on disputed islands off Hokkaido, Motegi was quoted as telling Lavrov during their meeting in New York.
The dispute over the four islands, which the Soviet Union seized at the end of the war, has long prevented the two sides from signing a peace treaty.
The two countries also agreed to arrange a visit by Motegi, who assumed his post in a Cabinet reshuffle on Sept. 11, to Russia at an early date. Lavrov plans to travel to Japan for a gathering of foreign ministers from the Group of 20 major economies in Nagoya in November.
Japan and Russia sought to move ahead with the peace treaty negotiations by appointing their foreign ministers to oversee the negotiations in December last year, but little progress has been made since.
According to the Japanese official, Motegi and Lavrov did not have detailed discussions on the territorial dispute on Wednesday.
Tokyo argues the Soviet Union illegally seized the islands, which lie to the east of Hokkaido, following its surrender in the war on Aug. 15, 1945, while Russia claims it acquired them legitimately as a result of the conflict. They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.
The two countries have been working to realize joint economic activities on the islands, such as waste reduction and tourism promotion, in the hope of building mutual trust. A pilot program for tourism will start in October.