SOCHI, Russia — Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba said Saturday he agreed with Russia to hold frequent high-level talks on seeking a mutually acceptable solution to a long-standing territorial dispute, although a wide gap remains.
So near, so far: Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands during their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in southern Russia, Saturday.
The two countries will hold more talks on the dispute at the top, foreign minister and deputy foreign minister levels, Genba told a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, after talks in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.
After meeting with Lavrov for about 100 minutes, Genba also spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and agreed that Japanese and Russian economic relations hold much potential.
Since Putin began his third term as president in May, Tokyo and Moscow have shown a readiness to make more efforts toward settling the dispute, which has kept them from concluding a formal postwar peace treaty.
To create a favorable environment for Japan and Russia to boost economic and security cooperation, both sides recognize that settling the territorial dispute is essential. But they remain far apart on how to do it.
“With regard to the issue of a peace agreement, in reality, positions of the two countries are still different,” Lavrov said.
The dispute involves Japan’s claim to four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group. Collectively, the islands are known as the Northern Territories in Japan and as the Southern Kurils in Russia.
The islands were seized by the Soviet Union toward end of World War II.
Genba’s visit to Russia, the first since he became foreign minister last September, comes after Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev made a controversial visit to Kunashiri on July 3, only two weeks after Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Putin agreed to reactivate bilateral talks on the territorial dispute in a calm manner.
The trip by Medvedev to the island sparked a strong protest from Tokyo and prompted Genba to describe it as pouring “cold water” on bilateral relations.
On Saturday, Genba said he lodged a protest with Lavrov over the trip.
But Lavrov dismissed it, saying at the news conference that Russia will “not accept it” and that it has no plans for its top officials to refrain from visiting the four islands.
Lavrov also said such a protest will not contribute in creating an environment necessary for the two countries to conduct constructive negotiations.
During a meeting later in the day in Sochi, Putin expressed his hopes of meeting with Noda again on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum leaders’ gathering in Vladivostok in early September.
Genba told Putin that Japan wants to send former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori to Russia as a special envoy in connection with the dispute, and Putin said he is ready to meet Mori “at any time,” Genba later told reporters.
Mori developed a personal relationship with Putin while Mori was prime minister for one year from April 2000.
In 2001, Mori and Putin confirmed in Irkutsk the validity of the 1956 joint declaration, under which the Soviet Union agreed to hand over Shikotan and Habomai to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty.
Nonetheless, Japan has never agreed to give up on the return of the two larger islands.
In a meeting with foreign reporters before he won re-election as president in March, Putin signaled Russia’s willingness to resolve the territorial row by returning two of the four islands. He used the judo term “hikiwake” — meaning draw — at that time.R Soft Web Hosting