Japan PM looks to elevate ties with Russia

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New Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan made overtures to Russian leader Dmitry Medvedev in their first talks Saturday, following what he called a long "period of tension."

"Succeeding a period of tension ... I want to devote my energies to improved relations with Russia," Kan said, according to his spokesman Kazuo Kodama, after he met Medvedev on the sidelines of a G8 summit in Canada.

"When I met after the summit with Russian President Medvedev, I believe I made a good start in order to establish personal trust," he said, adding the time was ripe to end a decades-long territorial dispute.

The two nations have never signed a treaty to formally end World War II because of Japan's claims to four islands off its northern coast that were seized by Soviet troops, who expelled Japanese residents, in the waning days of the conflict.

Japan has balked at Russia's past suggestions that it return only two of the islands or that the nations jointly develop them.

It has insisted on the return of all four islands, which are known as the South Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan.

Kan only took power earlier this month, replacing Yukio Hatoyama who resigned amid scandals after less than nine months in office, and is making his international debut here.

During bilateral talks, ahead of a G20 meeting in Toronto, Kan said the two neighbors "should strengthen our coordination in face of a drastically changing international environment."

"I said I believe the conditions for advancing Japan-Russia relationship are now better ... including (for) the resolution of the territorial issue between us," Kodama quoted Kan as saying.

"The two of us will make joint efforts introducing veritable changes to advance Japan-Russia relations, including the final settlement of the territorial issue, which has been long a cherished desire for Japanese people."

© 2010 AFP

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