Japan urges Medvedev not to return to disputed isles

3rd November 2010, Comments 0 comments

Japan on Wednesday urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev not to return to the disputed Kuril islands after ordering its ambassador to Moscow home temporarily over his first trip there.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan met with Masaharu Kono, Japan's envoy to Russia, after the diplomat briefed Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara about Medvedev's visit to one of four disputed isles, which prompted angry protests from Japan.

Maehara told Japanese reporters that Kono had briefed him on "the background and its (Russia's) aim...I was also briefed on the (Russian) domestic affairs."

Maehara urged that Medvedev not visit other disputed islands in the archipelago, after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday the president would return to the Kurils.

"The Northern Territories (as the islands are called in Japan) are an inherent territory of Japan. We have communicated our position to Russia," Maehara said.

"I hope he will take that into account."

The Japanese government has been put on the defensive after Medvedev on Monday visited the islands despite earlier protests by Tokyo.

The islands, north of Japan's Hokkaido island, have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II, but Tokyo claims the southernmost four as Japanese territory.

Kono, who returned to Japan Wednesday morning, was believed to have told Maehara that Medvedev's visit was designed to boost his domestic support rather than to confront Japan, national network Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) said.

But the Russian move came at a sensitive diplomatic moment in Japan, which has also faced a tense territorial dispute with China while trying to mend soured ties with Washington after a disagreement over a plan to relocate a US airbase in Japan.

Sensitivities are also high as Tokyo prepares to host a summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum nations in Yokohama this month.

Washington has said the Japan-US military alliance applies to the territorial row with China. But the dispute with Russia is not covered, the US State Department said.

It was not immediately clear how long Kono will stay in Japan.

Medvedev become the first leader from Russia or the former Soviet Union to travel to any of the disputed islands, triggering an immediate protest from Japan, which condemned it as "very regrettable".

Kan said Tuesday night he ordered Kono to make a "temporary" return home "because I wanted to hear what has happened".

© 2010 AFP

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