Japan PM protests to Russian president over island row

13th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan in talks with President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday voiced protest over the Russian leader's visit this month to a bitterly disputed island chain.

Medvedev infuriated Japan when he made the first trip by a Russian leader to the southern Kuril islands that have been at the centre of a dispute between Moscow and Tokyo since the end of World War II.

"Prime Minister Kan voiced protest" when the two leaders met in Japan for their first talks since Medvedev's visit, said Japan's Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Tetsuro Fukuyama after the meeting.

He added that "President Medvedev also voiced Russia's stance".

According to Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Medvedev told Kan that "it's best to do without emotional statements and diplomatic gestures as they do not help the case at all, rather to the contrary".

Both leaders also agreed to focus on economic ties, despite the row, Lavrov told reporters in Yokohama near Tokyo, where the leaders met for a wider summit of 21 Asia-Pacific economies.

Speaking at the start of their meeting, Medvedev told Kan he hoped that "in the course of today's meeting and other contacts we will lay the foundation for strengthening of a trust-based dialogue between our two countries".

Kan -- who after Medvedev's island visit on November 1 briefly recalled his ambassador to Moscow -- said he hoped the meeting would "help the start of a comprehensive dialogue on the basis of mutual trust".

But, despite the expressions of goodwill, no easy solution appeared in sight over the long-simmering dispute that has prevented the two nation from signing a post-war peace treaty.

The Kurils are a long chain of islands that stretch south of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula. The southernmost four were seized by the Soviet Union at the close of World War II and are controlled by Russia.

The Russian president's visit to the islands came at a sensitive time for Japan, which has also faced a tense territorial dispute with China.

Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalia Timakova told reporters this week that the Russian position on the islands remained unchanged, asserting Moscow's claim to the four islands which Japan calls the Northern Territories.

A Kremlin statement released to reporters in Yokohama said "the main problem on the path to reaching agreement (on the dispute) are the unjustified territorial claims to the South Kuril islands put forward by Tokyo."

Despite the tensions, Medvedev on Saturday oversaw the signing of a one-billion-dollar deal with Japanese and Chinese firms for a fertiliser plant.

Russian government-affiliated Ammoni signed a contract with Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Sojitz Corporation and China National Chemical Engineering Corporation to build a plant producing ammonia and methanol.

The deal -- which a Kremlin spokeswoman said will see the construction of the first major fertiliser plant in 20 years -- comes amid surging demand as food production rises in response to global population growth.

© 2010 AFP

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