Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono

Russia, Japan hold 1st round of consultations on Peace Treaty

ANI | Updated: Jan 15, 2019 17:13 IST

Moscow [Russia], Jan (Sputnik/ANI): Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono on Monday held talks here to discuss the issue of concluding a peace treaty between the two countries, which have been de facto in a state of war for decades.
The talks, however, have not been a breakthrough, proving that the issue of the disputed Kuril Islands cannot be overlooked as the parties began their path toward concluding a peace treaty.
The fact that Japan and Russia have never signed a permanent peace treaty after the end of World War II has long been a stumbling block in Russia-Japan relations. The main issue standing in the way of a treaty is an agreement concerning a group of four islands that both countries claim - Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan and Habomai, collectively referred to as the Southern Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan.
The two counterparts noted at the meeting the huge potential of relations between Moscow and Tokyo.
"In recent months, the agreement on avoidance of double taxation has come into force, and the simplification of the visa regime for groups of Russian tourists has been implemented. In addition, bilateral economic ties are developing consistently ... There is great potential in relations between Russia and Japan," Kono said.
Lavrov, for his part, indicated that Russia was interested in making additional efforts to bring the Russian-Japanese relations to a new level.
"We actively advocate making additional efforts to bring bilateral relations to a new level, to achieve trust, true partnership, including partnership on international affairs," the Russian minister stated.
According to Lavrov, both Russia and Japan realised the need for a qualitative change for the better in the bilateral relations.
"We have a shared understanding that the quality of our relations should be drastically improved in order to discuss complicated and the most difficult issues. Our relations are on the rise in general, with trade, economic, investment, and cultural ties developing. Right now, Russia and Japan are holding cross [-cultural] years that stir keen interest of our citizens and the residents of the Japanese islands," Lavrov indicated.
Lavrov stressed that the potential for the Russian-Japanese cooperation in economy and investment, as well in the security field was not exhausted yet, noting, at the same time, that the security cooperation between the two countries was marred by the deployment of United States missile defense systems in Japan.
"During negotiations, we have drawn attention [of Tokyo] to the steps that the United States was taking to develop its global missile defense system on the Japanese territory - the actions that are aimed at militarization of this part of the globe and that the United States formally justifies by the need to neutralize what they call the North Korean nuclear threat. But in fact these actions create risks for Russian and Chinese security," Lavrov pointed out.
The discussions devoted to the future peace treaty, inspired by the talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Singapore in November and Buenos Aires in December obviously became central to the meeting.
"In accordance with instructions of our leaders based on the outcome of meetings in Singapore in November and Buenos Aires in December last year, we launch today negotiations on the issue of peace treaty," Lavrov launched talks.
The Russian foreign minister stressed on the need to hold negotiations without misinterpreting earlier agreements.
"I would like to remind you that President Putin and Prime Minister Abe have agreed that the work on peace treaty will be carried out professionally, without any attempts to distort the agreements reached at this stage, without fueling controversial, unilateral rhetoric in public space. That's why I would like to urge our Japanese colleagues to strictly follow the agreements reached between our leaders both on the format of our negotiations and the essence of work on the peace treaty," Lavrov stated.
Lavrov said that he and Kono discussed the need to speed up the talks on the peace treaty, as instructed by Putin and Abe, but stressed that the sides still had significant disagreements over the issue.
"We still have significant disagreements [on the matter]. We have had diametrically opposed approaches from the very beginning and we have already said that. But the political will of our leaders to fully normalize the relations between Russia and Japan encourages us to intensify this dialogue," the Minister stressed.
Lavrov also underlined that both Moscow and Tokyo had confirmed that they were ready to work on the treaty relying on the 1956 declaration, "which first of all means the immutability of the very first step, which is Japan's full recognition of the outcomes of World War II, including Russia's sovereignty over all the islands of the South Kuril ridge."
"This is our basic position, and without making steps in this direction it will be very hard to expect for any kind of progress on other issues. We drew the attention of our Japanese colleagues to the fact that the issue of sovereignty over the islands is not being discussed, this is the territory of Russia, and we also pointed at the fact that the Japanese legislation calls these islands northern territory, which is, of course, unacceptable for Russia," Lavrov pointed out.
On November 14, Putin and Abe agreed to enhance talks on a peace treaty's conclusion based on the 1956 Soviet-Japanese joint declaration, the only document recognised by both countries. The declaration stipulates, among other things, that Japan will regain control over Habomai and Shikotan islets following the conclusion of the peace treaty with Russia.
Russia and Japan agreed to develop more ambitious projects for joint economic activity on the Kuril Islands, Lavrov said after talks with Kono.
"Today we drew the attention of our Japanese colleagues [to the matter] and agreed that more ambitious projects would be developed by relevant departments to ensure practical implementation of joint economic activity," Lavrov told a press conference.
He regretted that the agreement reached by Putin and Abe several years ago to develop joint economic activity in the region was being implemented at a slow pace, adding that the sides were planning five projects but not in the key areas.
Lavrov said there were no obstacles for Russia and Japan to switch to visa-free travel, starting from visa-free travel for people living on Russia's Sakhalin and Japan's Hokkaido islands.
"We told our colleagues that in recent years Russia has put forward many initiatives that are aimed at either liberalizing the travel regime for some citizen categories ... or introducing a visa-free regime. This is our global objective," the Russian minister stressed.
In January 2017, the Japanese authorities eased visa requirements for Russian citizens. The visa facilitation regime primarily affected entrepreneurs, artists and scientists.
On September 23, 2017, the first charter flight brought the former Kuril Islands residents from Japan to the islands. Before this date, only sea transport was used.
Putin and Abe will meet on January 22 during Abe's visit to Russia, Kono said, adding that Tokyo expected the Russian president's visit to Japan in June.
"President Putin's visit to Japan is expected in June for participation in the closing ceremony of the Russian-Japanese cross year," the diplomat noted, stressing that his next meeting with Lavrov may be held at the Munich Security Conference in February.
The Russian and Japanese deputy foreign ministers, Igor Morgulov and Takeo Mori, will hold consultations on Tuesday.
"We agreed that our deputies would stay in contact clarify each other's positions. By the next summit between President Putin and Prime Minister Abe, we will report on how their instructions are being implemented," Lavrov underlined.
Valery Kistanov, the head of the Center for Japanese Studies at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and former Russian Ambassador to Japan Alexander Panov commented on Lavrov-Kono talks and the prospects for concluding a peace treaty.
Speaking about Russia's demand that Tokyo recognises Russia's sovereignty over the Kuril Islands, Kistanov told Sputnik that Japan was unlikely to do this.
"The recognition of Russia's sovereignty over the four South Kuril Islands by Japan is a very difficult step as contradicts the current Japanese position, which implies that at the end of the World War II the Soviet Union attacked Japan, when it was on the verge of defeat, forcefully took the Kuril Islands and, first the Soviet Union then Russia, has been illegally occupying these islands since then," Kistanov argued.
Kistanov suggested that Japan was likely to seek "a tricky option that would allow avoiding the official recognition of Russia's sovereignty over the islands."
"Speaking about the peace treaty, it is not a treaty on the transfer of territories but on creating a new quality of relations ... The agreement text could include - and I think it would be logical - the clause saying that allied obligations of Japan and possible allied obligations of Russia with third countries will in no way be against the partner country and that armed forces of a foreign state will not be used to hurt the interests of the partner country," Panov suggested.
If the peace treaty has this clause, it will give Russia "a strong lever of influence" in its relations with Japan, he added, stressing that the disagreements between Moscow and Tokyo are not too sharp and that they still had a chance to overcome them. (Sputnik/ANI)