Japan refuses Moscow's offer on disputed islands


Wed, Nov 17, 2004 - Page 5

Japan said yesterday it wanted Russia to return all four Kuril islands, snubbing Moscow's renewed talk of returning two of them to end the dispute that has prevented the countries from formally ending World War II.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said "Japan cannot be content" with the return of two of the four islands just off northern Japan, which were seized by Soviet troops in 1945.

"We maintain the policy of concluding a peace treaty only after clarifying who owns the [all] four of the islands," Koizumi told reporters.

The government said Koizumi would raise the Kuril dispute with Russian President Vladimir Putin if they meet on the sidelines of a summit of the APEC forum in Chile this weekend.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said "Japan and Russia have a common policy" that they will conclude a peace treaty by resolving the status of all four islands. "We have not changed our stance of continuing strenuous negotiations in accordance with this policy," Hosoda, the top government spokesman, told a news conference.

Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said it was not appropriate to react to each remark by Russian leaders over the dispute.

The renewed focus on the peace deal comes amid Japanese efforts to outbid China for a new oil pipeline from Siberia that could quench Asia's growing energy thirst.

The issue of the Kurils, whose Japanese residents were expelled after the Soviet takeover, has prevented the two nations from signing a post-war peace treaty and restricted Japanese investment in Russia. Putin said Monday he was ready to revive peace talks with Japan on the islands -- Habomai, Shikotan, Etorofu and Kunashiri.

"We have always implemented and will continue to implement our [Soviet era] obligations -- especially ratified documents -- but of course only to the extent to which our partners are ready to implement these very same agreements," Putin said in televised remarks.

His comments referred to a 1956 declaration signed between Moscow and Tokyo in which Japan would receive two of the four islands in exchange for signing a peace treaty.

Putin is due to visit Japan next year to commemorate the signing of the first treaty between Japan and tsarist Russia 150 years ago.

Koizumi has demonstrated his determination for Japan to resume control of the islands, sailing near Habomai in September after ignoring Russian warnings that the trip would hamper talks on a bilateral peace treaty.