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Japan, Russia to step up talks for joint business on disputed isles

MUNICH — Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov agreed Friday to accelerate work toward starting joint economic activities on a group of Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.


During their meeting in Munich, they also decided to meet again in Tokyo on March 21 to prepare for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s planned visit to Russia in May and Abe’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese officials said.


Kono lodged a protest with Lavrov over Russia’s military exercise being held on the islands off Hokkaido and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s approval of military use of a civilian airport on the island of Etorofu, called Iturup by Russia, they said.


The Japanese and Russian foreign ministers are in the German city to participate in the Munich Security Conference, which runs from Friday to Sunday.


“I want the two of us to make preparations between ourselves so we can move forward various bilateral projects during Prime Minister Abe’s visit to Russia in May,” Kono said at the outset of the talks, open to the press.


“This is a good opportunity to see how far the agreements between our leaders have progressed,” Lavrov said.


“Our shared task is to make (Abe’s visit) a success, and we want to give our all to make it effective and fruitful,” he said.


Abe and Putin agreed in December 2016 to start discussions on the joint projects on the islands, which Japan hopes could lead to an eventual settlement of the territorial row.


They then agreed in September 2017 to conduct joint economic activities in five areas — aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind power, and waste reduction.


Both countries agree the projects can only go ahead under a special scheme, yet to be worked out, that would not compromise their legal positions regarding sovereignty over the isles.


The islands, called the Northern Territories by Japan and the Southern Kurils by Russia, were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. The dispute over the islands has kept Japan and Russia from signing a postwar peace treaty.


Later in the day, Kono met with Georgian Foreign Minister Mikheil Janelidze, agreeing to improve economic ties between their countries, Japanese officials said.


He also held talks with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on the phone and confirmed the need to increase pressure on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program, they said.

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