There still are significant differences between the Russian and Japanese positions on the peace treaty issue, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said at a meeting with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono on Friday.
Lavrov recalled that the current round of talks was taking place in accordance with a decision made by the two countries’ leaders to step up dialogue based on the 1956 Joint Declaration. “In accordance with these agreements, you and me have a serious task to make sure that bilateral relations reach a new level, which would facilitate the search for mutually acceptable solutions,” he added.
“During the previous rounds of talks that took place in January and February, as well as during consultations between our deputies, the parties clarified their principal approaches and thoroughly discussed historical and legal aspects,” he said. “I hope that these talks and consultations allowed the parties to better understand differences in their positions. The differences are still rather significant,” the Russian top diplomat pointed out. He was also hopeful that the meeting would make it possible for the parties to find ways to bring their positions closer.
According to the Russian foreign minister, it is important to thoroughly understand the situation “in order to have a realistic assessment of the prospects” for talks between Russia and Japan. “I look forward to continuing substantive and constructive discussions,” Lavrov said.
Peace treaty issue
Since the mid-20th century, Russia and Japan have been holding consultations in order to clinch a peace treaty as a follow-up to World War II. The Kuril Islands issue remains the sticking point since after WWII the islands were handed over to the Soviet Union while Japan laid claims to the four southern islands. In 1956, the two countries signed a joint declaration on ending the state of war and restoring diplomatic and all other relations, however, a peace treaty has still not been reached. Moscow has stated many times that Russia’s sovereignty over the islands cannot be called into question.
On November 14, 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore and agreed that the two countries would speed up peace treaty talks based on the 1956 declaration. The two countries’ foreign ministers, Sergey Lavrov and Taro Kono, oversee the negotiations conducted by their deputies, Igor Morgulov and Takeo Mori.
The Joint Declaration said that the Soviet government was ready to hand Shikotan Island and a group of small islands over to Japan, adding that Tokyo would get actual control of the islands after a peace treaty was signed. However, after Japan and the United States had signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in 1960, the Soviet Union withdrew its obligation to hand over the islands. A Soviet government’s memorandum dated January 27, 1960, said that those islands would only be handed over to Japan if all foreign troops were pulled out of the country.