Japanese FM to visit Moscow amid Kurils row: Russia

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Russia said Thursday that Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara would pay an official visit to Moscow in February in a bid to help the two sides' relations overcome their Kuril Islands dispute.

"We will be glad to see the Japanese Foreign Minister, Mr. (Seiji) Maehara, in February," news agencies quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexei Borodavkin as saying.

"We are in the process of agreeing the exact date," he added.

Relations between Moscow and Tokyo deteriorated sharply in November when President Dmitry Medvedev paid a controversial visit to one of the islands seized by the Soviet Union from Japan at the end of World War II.

The visit created uproar in Japan, with Tokyo briefly recalling its official envoy to Moscow, and Maehara himself flew on board a Japanese coastguard patrol aeroplane near the southern Kuril Islands this month.

Medvedev last week again stressed that Japan should realise that "all the South Kuril Islands are Russia's territory."

But Borodavkin said Thursday that the two sides -- which have still not signed a formal peace treaty and whose trade ties are minimal -- had more important issues to focus on than territorial disputes.

"Yes, there is a territorial dispute between our countries. It is recognized by both Russia and Japan. But territorial problems should not undermine the normal, dynamic development of our relations in other areas," said Borodavkin.

"Both sides are interested in developing their political, humanitarian and economic ties."

Medvedev met Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of a regional summit in Yakohama, Japan last month, inviting him to visit Moscow in 2011.

Japanese officials said Kan "voiced protest" over Medvedev's Kurils visit in that meeting, and said only that he "would consider" coming to Moscow next year.

© 2010 AFP

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