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Japan to continue course toward signing peace treaty with Russia — top diplomat

New Japanese Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa noted that the issue of resuming visits to the graves of former Japanese smokers by their relatives is “one of the main priorities” of the Japanese side in relations with Russia

TOKYO, September 14. /TASS/. Japan will continue its course toward resolving its territorial dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands, or "northern territories" as they are referred to in Japan, and signing a peace treaty, Japan’s new Foreign Minister Yoko Kamikawa said on Thursday.

"As for the problem of northern territories, we will firmly stick to the course toward resolving the territorial dispute and signing a peace treaty," she told her first news conference after the appointment.

According to Kamikawa, the issue of resuming visits to the graves of former Japanese Kuril residents by their relatives is "among top priorities" for the Japanese side in its relations with Russia. "We will spare no efforts resume such visits," she added.

Russia and Japan have been negotiating a peace treaty after World War II since the mid-20th century. The main stumbling block to this is the issue of the ownership of the southern Kuril Islands. After the end of World War II, all Kuril Islands were incorporated into the Soviet Union. However, Japan challenged the ownership of Iturup, Kunashir, Shikotan islands and a number of uninhibited islands of the Lesser Kuril Ridge called the Habomai Islands in Japan.

In 1956, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a joint declaration on ceasing the state of war. The two countries resumed diplomatic and other relations, however no peace treaty has been signed until now.

The Russian foreign ministry has repeatedly said that Russia’s sovereignty over these islands, which is committed to paper in international documents, cannot be called to question.

The Russian foreign ministry said in March 2022 that Moscow was stopping peace treaty talks with Tokyo after it imposed unilateral sanctions on Russia over the situation in Ukraine. Along with that, Moscow withdrew from dialogue with Tokyo on the establishment of joint economic activities on the Southern Kuril Islands and blocked the extension of Japan’s sectoral dialogue partner status in the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation.

Later, Russia terminated its agreement with Japan on facilitated procedures for visits to the Kurils by Japanese citizens - former residents of these islands - as well as an agreement on the procedure for mutual trips. The Russian Foreign Ministry then stressed that this measure did not affect the Soviet-Japanese agreement on mutual visa-free visits to graves of July 2, 1986.

The program for visa-free exchanges began in 1992 on the basis of an intergovernmental agreement to improve mutual understanding. Since then, about 10,000 residents of the Iturup, Kunashir and Shikotan islands have visited Japan, and about 20,000 Japanese have traveled to the southern part of the Kurils. In September 2017, Moscow and Tokyo, under an agreement achieved at the summit level, arranged for the first charter flight to the southern islands of the Kuril Archipelago for their former residents to let them pay homage to the graves of their ancestors.