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Japanese, Russian foreign ministers to discuss territorial row

Japanese and Russian foreign ministers will meet Friday in Moscow to negotiate a way through a long-standing territorial dispute that has prevented the countries signing a postwar peace treaty.


Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov are expected to discuss plans to conduct joint economic activities on four Russian-owned islands off Hokkaido, a move intended by Tokyo to help build mutual trust ahead of more contentious discussions.


The Soviet Union seized the islands — called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. Moscow argues it acquired them legitimately after Japan’s 1945 surrender brought an end to World War II.


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had hoped to secure a broad peace treaty agreement when he meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka. But with Russia appearing unwilling to budge on the islands, the talks are likely to drag on for some time.


Lavrov has suggested that in the meantime, the countries enable visa-free travel between Sakhalin in Russia’s Far East, and Hokkaido. He may raise the issue again in the meeting with Kono.


Proposed joint economic activities on the islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai islet group — include aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind power, and waste reduction programs.


Abe and Putin agreed to pursue the activities in December 2016, but so far none of them have been realized.


After Friday’s meeting, Japanese Senior Deputy Foreign Minister Takeo Mori is slated to speak with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov for working-level discussions.

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