Japan says no progress on territorial row with Russia

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama (L) shakes hands with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (R) prior to their talks during the APEC Summit in Singapore on November 15 (AFP photo)

SINGAPORE, Nov 15, 2009 (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama indicated he made little headway in talks Sunday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on a decades-old territorial row.

The two nations have yet to sign a peace treaty ending World War II because of the dispute over a chain of Pacific islands seized by Soviet troops in 1945, known as the South Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan.

"I told President Medvedev that the Japanese people cannot understand the proposal of returning two islands (out of four), and that we are expecting that (Russia) would offer a proposal beyond that," Hatoyama told reporters.

The Japanese leader said Medvedev told him it was meaningless to be stuck in Cold War-era thinking.

"This time our discussion ended here," Hatoyama said. "There was no concrete proposal. He showed only a way of thinking."

"I believe that this issue has to be resolved at the leaders' level," he added. "President Medvedev and I agreed that we could make telephone calls at any time to discuss the issue."

Medvedev had said at the start of the meeting, held on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore, that he hoped to discuss a range of issues including "the most difficult ones that we inherited."

In October, Japanese Land Minister Seiji Maehara became the first cabinet minister in five years to view the disputed islands when he surveyed them from the sea.

Maehara said afterwards that Japan should keep demanding that Russia return them and called their seizure an "illegal occupation", provoking an angry response from Moscow.

Hatoyama, who has a history of personal ties with Russia, said Sunday he planned to build "new Japanese-Russian relations".

His late grandfather, former prime minister Ichiro Hatoyama, visited Moscow in 1956 and signed a joint declaration reopening dialogue after the war. The new prime minister's son also teaches at Moscow State University.

Source: AFP

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