US backs Japan on Russian leader's visit to disputed isles

1st November 2010, Comments 0 comments

The United States backed Japan in its rift with Russia over the Kuril Islands, where Russian President Dmitry Medvedev paid a visit Monday, but called for negotiations to resolve the decades-old quarrel.

"We do back Japan regarding the northern territories," said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley, using Tokyo's preferred term for the disputed islands.

"But this is why the United States for a number of years has encouraged Japan and Russia to negotiate an actual peace treaty regarding these and other issues," Crowley said.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev infuriated Japan on Monday with a visit to the remote territory.

Japan summoned Russia's ambassador to Tokyo after Medvedev flew into the island of Kunashir, on the first visit by a Russian leader to the isles which have prevented a post-World War II peace treaty between the two neighbors.

Japan maintains that the four northern islands are part of Japanese territory, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday responded by calling Japan's reaction "unacceptable" and summoning Japan's ambassador to Moscow.

The Kuril Islands, which lie 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.

Medvedev's trip is likely to complicate ties ahead of his visit to Japan for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this month, but analysts said it was a signal to Tokyo that Moscow is not willing to give up the islands.

© 2010 AFP

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