Japan protests Russian minister’s comment on territorial spat

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Tokyo (dpa) – Japan lodged a protest with Russia on Friday over recent remarks by a Russian official claiming Moscow would not return to the table to discuss islands disputed with Tokyo.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the comments by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, concerning the Russian-controlled Kuril Islands, were “unacceptable.”

The three islands and a group of islets are also claimed by Japan, which calls them the Northern Territories.

Kishida told a news conference that Morgulov’s remarks, reported earlier this week by Russia’s Interfax news agency, were “unproductive and false,” and at odds with a bilateral agreement to hold talks about the territorial dispute.

“I would like to urge Russia to deal in a constructive manner to move forward Japan-Russia relations,” Kishida said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova also told a news conference Thursday that the disputed islands were not up for discussion as the issue was already resolved 70 years ago, Jiji Press reported.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and other ministers recently visited the islands, sparking protests from the Japanese government.

But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country would continue talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite the visit.

Soviet troops seized the island region in 1945 after Japan agreed to the terms of the Potsdam Declaration for its World War II surrender.

The dispute has prevented the two countries from signing an official peace treaty after the war.

Abe and Putin have met to discuss the islands and other issues, most recently in November.

But relations have been strained as Tokyo has come under pressure to join Western countries in imposing sanctions over Moscow for its alleged involvement in rebel violence in eastern Ukraine.

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