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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

G8 SUMMIT 2008

Fukuda, Medvedev favor isle row solution

Staff writer

TOYAKO, Hokkaido — Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev agreed Tuesday they should resolve the territorial row over the four Russia-held islands off Hokkaido, saying the dispute hinders bilateral ties.

The meeting between Fukuda and Medvedev on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Toyako, Hokkaido, was the first since the Russian president took office in May.

"If the territorial row is resolved, bilateral relations will be pulled up to the highest level," Medvedev was quoted as saying by a senior Japanese official. "It could drastically change current relations."

Fukuda and Medvedev also agreed to continue negotiations at various government levels, including between the top leaders, based on declarations and documents agreed to in the past, the official said.

The territorial row over Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets has been a diplomatic thorn between Tokyo and Moscow for more than six decades and has prevented the two from signing a formal World War II peace treaty.

During former President Vladimir Putin's administration, there were voices in Russia that said concluding a peace treaty isn't a must to boost bilateral ties because the two countries are already on good terms.

Fukuda and Medvedev also agreed that Putin, who continues to wield political influence in his new position as prime minister, and three other top Russian officials will visit Japan on separate occasions later this year.

They agreed to forge a treaty on mutual cooperation in criminal investigations that would allow the two nations to exchange evidence and testimony on criminal cases.

The move is in response to rising crimes in both nations and the rise in Japanese and Russians traveling between them. The number of such visitors was about 240,000 in 2007, up 1.7 times from the year before.

Fukuda and Medvedev agreed to launch a joint environmental research project that would include the four disputed islands and the Sea of Okhotsk, as well as the Far East and Siberia.

Due to climate change, the amount of drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk has dropped 20 percent in the past three decades and both nations are worried what effect it would have on the ecosystem.

Under the agreement, the two countries plan to cooperate on researching marine conditions, including research on substances that flow into the Sea of Okhotsk from the Amur River.

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The Japan Times

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