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Putin declares readiness to negotiate with Japan on Kurils

Moscow is willing to negotiate with Tokyo on the issue of four islands that the Soviet Union took from Japan after the Second World War, the Russian president said.
MOSCOW, June 4 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow is willing to negotiate with Tokyo on the issue of four islands that the Soviet Union took from Japan after the Second World War, the Russian president said.

Russia and Japan have contested the ownership of the southern Kuril Islands for over 60 years. Japan maintains that their seizure was illegal, and the dispute has kept the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty.

Speaking at a news conference Friday at the presidential residence near Moscow, Vladimir Putin said: "We don't consider them contestable, as the situation arose as a result of the Second World War, and was fixed in international law, and in international documents. But we understand the motivation of our Japanese partners. We want to get rid of all thorns of the past, and we are seeking a solution to this issue together with Japan."

The president is set to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, along with leaders of Group of Eight leading industrialized nations at Germany's Baltic resort of Heiligendamm, at the G8 summit from June 6 to 8.

The Russian leader told the news conference for journalists of G8 nations that talks on the Kurils issue have moved away from rhetoric, and taken on a more businesslike character.

"We welcome this. And I would like to reiterate that even the Soviet Union showed in its time a large degree of flexibility in resolving this issue, signing in 1956 a declaration according to which two of the islands would remain with the Soviet Union, and two would be passed to Japan," the president said.

The declaration was ratified by the Soviet Union's Supreme Council and by Tokyo, he said.

"But our Japanese partners suddenly, unexpectedly rejected this document, even though they had themselves ratified it. I'm sure you'll agree that under such conditions, it is not easy for us to reach a joint decision, but we are fully resolved to work on this together with [Japan]."

Putin said that at the upcoming summit, he intended to invite the Japanese premier to Russia, and stressed the importance of regular contacts.

"The more often Japanese state officials and businessmen come to visit us, the better."

The Kuril archipelago of volcanic islands stretches 1,300 miles from Japan to Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.

In the Treaty of San Francisco signed by Japan and the Allied Powers in 1951, which formally ended WWII, Japan renounced its rights to the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. However, the four southern Kuril Islands were not specifically mentioned in the treaty, which was not signed by the Soviet Union.

Last year, Russia offered to return to Japan the Shikotan and Khabomai islands, with a combined area of just 276 square kilometers (172 square miles), or 6% of the disputed territory, on the condition that Tokyo renounce its claims to the two larger islands, Iturup and Kunashir, whose combined area totals 4,629 square kilometers (2,890 square miles).

Japan rejected the proposal, claiming its right to all four islands.

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