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Russian diplomat says territorial dispute not on agenda for peace treaty talks with Japan

NTV’s BS satellite channel aired on its “Shinso Nyusu” [News in Depth] program on Friday evening a live interview with Minister Counselor Dmitry Birichevsky of the Russian Embassy in Japan on the ongoing Japan-Russia talks for a peace treaty. Birichevsky began by stating that the “South Kurils” issue is not on the agenda of  the bilateral talks because these islands legally became Russian territory as a result of World War II, so no territorial dispute exists between the two countries. Echoing recent statements by Foreign Minister Lavrov, he asserted that Japan accepted this under the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951. When University of  Niigata Prefecture Professor Shigeki Hakamada, a leading expert on Russian affairs, asked him what the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Communique’s provision on handing over Habomai and Shikotan after signing a peace treaty meant, Birichevsky argued that the communique had no provision regarding sovereignty over these islands. Hakamada pointed out that the return of the islands naturally also means the handover of sovereignty. He further pointed out that the 1993 Tokyo Declaration on Japan-Russia Relations and the 2001 Irkutsk Statement by the leaders of both countries proved the existence of a territorial dispute and that Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov admitted in 2003 that the national border between the two countries has yet to be delineated. Hakamada said President Putin only changed his position on this issue in 2005. Birichevsky ended up reasoning that unless Japan recognizes that the Northern Islands belong to Russia, Russia cannot hand over what it doesn’t own.


However, Birichevsky and Hakamada agreed that the tough statements made recently by Putin and Lavrov were serious and not simply negotiating tactics. Consequently, they agreed that little progress will be made at Prime Minister Abe’s meeting with Putin on Tuesday evening.


Regarding joint economic activities, Birichevsky pointed out that no concrete plans have been decided upon and the economic benefits would not be sufficient to quell the Russian people’s strong opposition to handing over any of the islands to Japan, especially in Sakhalin.


With regard to security issues, Birichevsky claimed that Japan’s deployment of Aegis Ashore systems threatens Russia and China since they can easily be converted into offensive weapons. He further said that USFJ Commander Martinez’s statement that the U.S. has no plans to station troops in the Northern Territories does not amount to a guarantee because even if the U.S. has no plans to do so at present, it could do so in the future. He insisted that a firm commitment from Japan that no U.S. troops will be allowed on the Northern Islands will be necessary in the bilateral talks for the peace treaty. He also offered his “personal opinion” that demilitarization steps would be necessary to build mutual trust, but Hakamada argued that that would mean that Russia would also need to remove its military forces from the islands.


Finally, commenting on the prospects for the Japan-Russia summit on Tuesday, Birichevsky said the two leaders might be able to make a small amount of progress due to their good personal relations but that any major progress is unlikely.

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