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INTERVIEW: Minister seeks progress in treaty talks with Russia

Tokyo, Oct. 2 (Jiji Press)–Japanese minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs Seiichi Eto has sought progress in negotiations to conclude a peace treaty with Russia after settling a long-running territorial dispute.

 

The Foreign Ministry mainly handles the negotiations on the envisioned treaty and the dispute over four Russian-controlled northwestern Pacific islands claimed by Tokyo, Eto said Tuesday.

 

His role is to “support and propel the negotiations,” he also said in an interview with media organizations including Jiji Press.

 

“I want to create momentum,” he said. “I also want to increase interactions with Russia, educate the domestic public (about the issue) and conduct support measures for former residents of the islands.”

 

The islands, known in Japan as the Northern Territories, were seized from Japan by the former Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II. The dispute has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a bilateral peace treaty.

 

He backed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s avoidance of describing the four islands as Japan’s “inherent territory,” a sign that the government does not want to take a confrontational attitude toward Moscow.

 

“The prime minister says there has been no change to the government’s legal position on the Northern Territories,” Eto said. “We must follow his lead.”

 

Regarding remote islands near the country’s borders where foreign capital is buying land, Eto said it is legally difficult to restrict real estate purchases by foreigners. He called on the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to discuss the matter and present the results to the government.

 

Eto also said he will not consider linking the issue of military bases in Okinawa Prefecture with state financial assistance for the southernmost prefecture.

 

But he did not completely rule out the relationship between military bases and aid, stating that “how to use former base sites significantly affects Okinawa’s future.”

 

Okinawa and the central government are at odds over the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air base in the prefecture.

 

Amid the spat, the Cabinet Office kept its request for fiscal 2020 outlays for the assistance unchanged from the previous year although the Okinawa government sought an increase.

 

Eto defended his past visits to Yasukuni Shrine, which honors Class-A war criminals along with the war dead, saying that the visits were a matter regarding him as an individual.

 

“I have not decided yet, but I will consider it carefully,” he said of his potential future visits.

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