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TOKYO, January 8. /TASS/. Joint economic activities on the southern Kuril Islands could be a big plus on the way to solving the problem of a peace treaty between Japan and Russia, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interview with the NHK television channel on Sunday.
"As for settlement of the territorial dispute over four northern islands (Russian South Kuril Islands) and the conclusion of a peace treaty, we have been negotiating until now and, unfortunately, we have not advanced even by a millimeter," he said.
When asked about the reasons for this, the Prime Minister noted that "over the last 70 years, unfortunately, Japanese people do not live there (on the islands), while thousands of Russians do."
"We need to face the reality. If we don’t, then the progress will be same as during the past 70 years," Abe said.
In this regard, Abe noted that during the recent visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan the parties had agreed to start consultations on joint economic activities on the islands "based on a special system which would not harm the positions of both countries."
Speaking about possible benefits of such a format, the Prime Minister suggested that Japanese and Russian people will be able "to conduct economic activities, to live together, to understand each other."
"I think that without a doubt, this is a big plus on the way to conclusion of the peace treaty," he said, noting that the problem cannot be solved without mutual trust.
Russia and Japan have no peace treaty signed after World War II. The settlement of this problem inherited by Russia’s diplomacy from the Soviet Union is hampered by the years-long dispute over the four islands of Russia’s Southern Kurils - Shikotan, Habomai, Iturup and Kunashir, which Japan calls its northern territories.
After World War II, in September 1945, Japan signed its surrender, and in February 1946, the Kuril Islands were declared territories of the Soviet Union. In 1956, the USSR and Japan signed a Joint Declaration thus re-establishing bilateral diplomatic, trade and other kinds of relations after World War II. According to the document, the USSR unilaterally expressed readiness to return the Shikotan and Hamobai islands as a gesture of good will, but only after signing a peace treaty.
According to the joint statement signed by Putin and Abe in December 2016, the parties "reached an understanding that the start of consultations on a joint economic activity of Russia and Japan in the Southern Kuril Islands may become an important step towards the conclusion of a peace treaty."
The parties proceed from the fact that the statement, any progress made on the basis of the agreement on development of joint economic activities and its implementation "do not pose damage the positions of Russia and Japan on the issue of a peace treaty."
"The two leaders have agreed to advance the negotiations on joint economic activities on the islands, and also expressed their sincere determination to resolve the problem of a peace treaty," according to the joint statement.