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Abe annoyed with MOFA about its response to potential agreements with Russia

At the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russian President Vladimir Putin suddenly came up with a proposal on Sept. 12 to sign a peace treaty with Japan before the end of this year without any preconditions. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe smiled slightly in reaction to this proposal.


A political editor points out that “the Japanese government’s official position is to sign a peace treaty after confirming the sovereignty of the four islands. Media reports have criticized this ‘no preconditions’ proposal for shelving the territorial issue.”


However, Abe himself has made the following comments on Putin’s proposal: “This was an extension of our talk (on Sept. 10). I have had 22 summit meetings with Mr. Putin and his position has not changed. He has continued to assert that the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration constitutes an obligation.”


The Joint Declaration of 1956 stipulates “the return of the islands of Habomai and Shikotan as a token of goodwill after concluding a peace treaty.” On the other hand, Putin has not agreed to negotiate on the islands of Kunashiri and Etorofu because “they became Soviet territory as a result of World War II.”


A Kantei source explains that “deep in his heart, the Prime Minister feels that the return of two islands is sufficient. He reckons that ‘even the former islanders do not want the return of all four islands. Even though the two islands make up only 7% of the total land area, their return will expand Japan’s territorial sea, and the promotion of joint economic activities will benefit both sides tremendously.’”


Abe and Putin attended an international judo competition after the forum. They also engaged in one-on-one talks on this occasion. Abe reportedly recalls that “Mr. Putin was in a good mood.”


Meanwhile, Abe is clearly annoyed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). A close aide to the Prime Minister grumbles that “there have been several cases of agreements reached by National Security Secretariat Chief Shotaro Yachi and other leaders being rolled back by working-level officials out of their obsession with the return of all four islands. [Abe] even took the step of making (then) Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Akiba sit at the last session of the summit meeting in Yamaguchi to let him witness the actual exchanges.”


Putin has conveyed his concern that “judging from the working-level reports, I doubt if Japan really wants to resolve this issue.”


The above Kantei source reveals that “this time, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov was also furious with the response of his counterpart Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Mori. However, the problem is [Abe] has no trusted officials in the ministry. The Russian Division chief used to be the official responsible for working-level talks, but he has been suspended for nine months for sexual harassment.”


Abe and Putin will meet again at the ASEAN and APEC meetings in November. Only three months are left before “the end of the year.” Abe has always said that “politics is about results.”

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