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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Japan and Russia again fail to arrange date for Putin visit


Staff writer

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov failed Tuesday to set a date for President Vladimir Putin's long-delayed visit to Japan as the two countries remained "poles apart" over the bilateral territorial row.

Machimura said during a joint news conference after the Tokyo meeting that Japan and Russia still agree that Putin's visit would take place by the end of the year and that the date will be set "in the near future."

Although Putin was initially expected to visit early this year, the trip has been delayed by the two countries's sharp divisions on the long-standing dispute over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

Tokyo has repeatedly urged Moscow either to set a date or give a general idea of when Putin might visit.

By delaying the visit, Japanese officials believe Russia is trying to lower Tokyo's expectation that Moscow may compromise on the dispute over Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets, seized by Soviet forces in the closing days of World War II.

Japan wants Russia to return all four islands, but Russia has said it is willing to hand over only the small Shikotan and Habomai group as it promised in a declaration signed in 1956.

The two sides "are poles apart" on the territorial issue, Lavrov told reporters through an interpreter.

Lavrov said it will take some time to resolve the "complicated issue" because each side would need to get consent from its people before agreeing to any solution to the dispute, which has prevented the two nations from signing a World War II peace treaty.

Machimura stressed the need to continue talks based on past documents, including the 1956 joint declaration signed by Japan and the Soviet Union and the 1993 Tokyo Declaration.

In the 1956 declaration, Moscow agreed to hand over the Habomai group and Shikotan after the two sides signed a peace treaty.

The Tokyo Declaration, agreed to by Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, named all four islands as disputed territories.

"Although there is a basic difference (in position), we cannot leave the matter unresolved," Machimura said. The two ministers agreed to continue talks at various government levels, and Lavrov asked Machimura to visit Moscow before Putin's visit to Tokyo.

As for proposed reform of the United Nations, Lavrov said Russia continues to support Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the Security Council, a Japanese official said.

"Russia will support expansion of the U.N. Security Council if the idea gains support from



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