TOKYO – Japan and Russia expressed on Tuesday in a ministerial meet their diverging positions on sovereignty dispute over Kuril Islands that has been a sticking point between the two countries for a peace treaty since the World War II.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya met their respective Russian counterparts, Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Shoygu, in Tokyo in what was their first two-plus-two meeting since last year.
Tokyo conveyed to Moscow its concern over Russia’s growing military presence on the group of disputed islands known as Northern Territories in Japan, Japanese defense minister told reporters after the meeting.
His Russian counterpart defended their military activity in the region as legitimate, and in turn protested Japan’s deployment of US-made Aegis interceptor missiles that Moscow sees as a threat to its security.
Despite their differences, the two sides committed to exchange opinions and widen collaboration on matters of international and regional security, particularly the issue of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, according to the Japanese foreign minister.
Lavrov said both countries were in favor of complete denuclearization of Korea, and underlined that all the involved parties needed to carry out reciprocal gestures and without giving ultimatums to Pyongyang, a stance that has been supported by China.
Lavrov and Kono had earlier held a meeting in Moscow on May 10 to discuss the possibility of a future peace treaty.
The current meet presented the Japanese government with an opportunity to prepare the ground ahead of a bilateral summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit, expected to be held on June 28-29 in Osaka, western Japan.
During an earlier summit last year, Abe and Putin committed to sign a peace treaty that has been pending for the last 70 years, although it remained unclear how they would broach the contentious sovereignty dispute.
Tokyo seeks the return of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai islands that have been under Russian control since the end of the World War II, and hopes to recover at least two of them as contemplated in a 1965 Japan-Soviet Union joint declaration, according to the Abe-led government.
In 1965, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a declaration that resumed diplomatic relations and established the rules that both sides would have to comply with to sign a peace treaty.
The text of the declaration stated that the peace treaty would be signed and then the islands of Habomai and Shikotan in the Kuril archipelago will be handed over to Japan.
Subsequently, however, Japan and the Soviet Union withdrew from the declaration for various reasons, although in 2000 Moscow and Tokyo again discussed the possibility of signing a peace treaty.
Together with this, Japan has not lost hope of recovering the other two islands in dispute – Etorofu and Kunashiri – the largest of the four that were occupied by Russia and which Japan refers to as the northern territories.