TOKYO – Japan and Russia agreed on Friday to continue with dialog on the disputed Kuril islands in a bilateral summit between the countries’ leaders, to be held on June 29 in the western Japanese city of Osaka.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on Friday met for the second and final day of meetings on Tokyo, which were also attended by the defense ministers of both countries, Takeshi Iwaya and Sergey Shoygu.
The meeting, the first of its kind since July 2018, was used to finalize preparations for the bilateral summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to be held on the sidelines of the G20 summit in the western Japanese city of Osaka in the last week of June.
The ministers of both countries reaffirmed their will to continue working to resolve the dispute over the islands – known as Northern Territories in Japan – although they said that their positions continued to diverge substantially over the issue, which has been the main obstacle in the two sides signing a Peace Treaty pending since World War II.
The Japanese foreign minister said after the meeting that they would continue to move forward in a “flexible and constructive” manner, without offering further details about the negotiations.
Lavrov insisted in a media briefing that continuing negotiations did not mean the two sides had reached a common ground, again refusing to reveal more details.
The two sides agreed to hold another working meeting on June 11 to discuss the development of joint economic activities in the four South Kuril islands in the fields of fishing, tourism, health and environment, as well as easing visa norms, allowing the thousands of former Japanese residents of the islands to visit them.
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.
However, Moscow holds that the declaration mandates the signing of a peace treaty before the return of two islands, Shikotan and Habomai, which are among the smallest of the archipelago.