Medvedev defends position on Kuril Islands, invites Japanese PM to Russia

RIA Novosti / POOL
The Russian president has suggested that Tokyo will change its approach to the territorial dispute over the Southern Kuril Islands and put the economy first.

As the leaders from member states of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum gathered for their summit in the Japanese city of Yokohama, on the sidelines Medvedev held a much anticipated meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Saturday. It follows the recent row over the Russian president’s trip to the Southern Kurils.

The president reaffirmed Moscow’s position that the islands are Russian territory, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. Medvedev also invited the Japanese leader to visit any region of Russia, including the Far East. Kan accepted the invitation.

“As Naoto Kan once again expressed regret over President Medvedev’s visit to Kunashir Island, our  president reaffirmed our vision of the situation: the president decides himself what region to visit, this is our territory,” Interfax news agency quoted Lavrov as saying.

Moscow expects its Japanese partners to take “a more appropriate attitude” toward the issue, the minister said.

Medvedev also suggested at the meeting that the Japanese leadership should change its approach to the problem of a peace treaty between the two countries and prioritize the economy. The document has not been formally signed since the end of the Second World War, as Tokyo insists the Southern Kuril Islands, incorporated by the Soviet Union as a result of the war, belong to Japan.

“The president noted that it is better to refrain from emotional statements and diplomatic gestures, because they do not help business, on the contrary,” Lavrov said, as reported by Itar-Tass news agency. “The broader economic cooperation is, the more solid the foundations of relations,” the minister stressed.

“I hope that during these talks and other contact we’ll lay down the foundations for strengthening the confidential dialogue between our states,” the agency quoted Medvedev as saying.

Kan also stressed that he “would like to develop friendly relations between Russia and Japan… like between two partners.” He expressed hope that the meeting will start “a full-scale dialogue” between the two countries’ leaders “on the basis of mutual trust.”

Medvedev and Kan had been expected to discuss the situation following Medvedev’s trip to Kunashir Island on November 1. Japanese Ambassador Masaharu Kono was recently recalled, but then returned to Moscow after the row over Medvedev’s visit to the islands.

Earlier on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with his Japanese counterpart Seiji Maehara in Yokohama. Maehara did not use terms which Japanese politicians often use when speaking about the islands, such as “illegal occupation” or “Japanese territories,” a Japanese diplomatic source said.

“Both ministers laid down their countries’ principal stances over Russian President Medvedev’s recent visit to the South Kurils,” Itar-Tass quoted the source as saying. “Both of them called for building relations of mutual understanding in a calm atmosphere.”

No new proposals were put forward at the meeting, however, both ministers agreed that the development of cooperation between Japan and Russia meets their strategic interests.  

­Sergey Borisov, RT