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Putin: Japan should respect Russia's position on Kuril islands

Shinzo Abe believes special economic conditions for Kuril Islands would resolve peace treaty dilemma

TOKYO, December 16. /TASS/. Solution to the territorial dispute and the conclusion of a peace treaty between Russia and Japan cannot be reached instantly, Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed at a press conference after talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday.

"It would be naive to believe that we can solve this (territorial dispute over the South Kuril Islands) overnight, but it is necessary to search for a solution that would meet the strategic interests of Russia and Japan and that would be accepted by people of both countries," the Russian leader said calling the absence of a peace treaty between Moscow and Tokyo "an anachronism of the past."

Putin urges to stop "historical ping-pong" about the fate of the islands; the interests of both countries require long-term and full settlement.

Putin said he was confident that the sides needed to come to final and long-term settlement.

"To our mind, it is necessary to stop this historical ping-pong for these territories and finally realize that the fundamental interests of both Japan and Russia require final and long-term settlement and this is the crux of the matter," the Russian president said.

Putin said he hopes joint business activity on Kuril Islands will foster peace treaty between Russia, Japan.

He noted that the initiative on the joint economic activities in the southern Kuril Islands had been supported by both leaders. "We hope that such cooperation will contribute to creating a favorable atmosphere for continuing talks on signing a peace treaty," Putin said.

"These islands can quite become not an apple of discord between Russia and Japan, if we implement the plans of Mr. Prime Minister [of Japan Shinzo Abe] but, on the contrary, something that unites both Russia and Japan," Putin said.

As the Russian president said, "If we make proper steps towards the plan proposed by the prime minister - and he proposed creating a separate structure for economic activity on the islands, conclude an inter-governmental agreement and work on the mechanism of interaction," then this basis can be used to develop such conditions that would allow achieving a final solution on the peace treaty.

"If someone believes that we are interested solely in developing economic ties and are putting off a peace treaty as a secondary thing, this is not the case," the Russian leader said.

"To my mind, the most important thing is to conclude a peace treaty because this will create conditions for our long-term interaction in a historical perspective, in the medium and long term," the Russian president said.

Putin said he was confident "this is more important than the activity on the islands."

"Japan has lived without intensive cooperation with Russia for 70 years and we have lived likewise. Can we live in this manner further? Yes, we can. But will this be correct? No, this will be incorrect," the head of the Russian state said.

As Putin said, "If we unite the efforts, the competitiveness of our countries and economies will increase manifold." "This is what we should aspire for," Putin said.

Special economic regime 

The special economic regime for the Kuril Islands may resolve the peace treaty problem between Russia and Japan, he added.  Abe has underlined the need for a new approach for the future solution to the peace treaty issue.

"We’ve agreed with Russian President to create a special economic regime for conducting special business activities on those islands," he said.

"The special economic regime will be aimed at providing a background for resolving the (peace treaty - TASS) problem, will be a very important step for solving the peace treaty issue in the future," Abe said, adding that his "opinion in the matter fully coincided with Vladimir (Putin)."

"We discussed this issue for five hours. We even had a very frank conversation during our face-to-face meeting. I believe we were able to understand each other," he said.

Abe stressed that "solving the peace treaty problem is our sincere desire." "We were able to express this desire, but so far it is a bit too early to talk about resolving this issue. A difficult path lies ahead," he said.

"There is the need for a thinking aimed for the future," Abe said. "Based on this new approach, we came to an agreement that we will start talks on a special regime when a joint economic activity on the four islands will be carried out."

This economic activity will be based on a mutual understanding that it is not damaging and is not detrimental to the positions of both Japan and Russia on the issue of a peace treaty, he said. "This is an important step on the way towards singing a peace treaty, and we agreed on this with Vladimir. We will solve the peace treaty problem."

At the same time, the Japanese premier said this is not an easy task taking into consideration the issue of the Kuril Islands which Japan calls the Northern Territories.

"No Japanese nationals live on these islands," Abe said. "Many Russian citizens live on these islands, and 70 years have passed. On the other hand, it’s because 70 years have passed, and the former citizens of the islands have overcome the offence and contact with the Russian people who live on the islands and the mutual understanding between them is developing.".

The former Japanese residents of the South Kuril Islands hope that Tokyo and Moscow will conclude a peace treaty, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed about that, Abe said.

"The Russian president has been informed about their genuine wish to see a peace treaty signed," Abe said.

Free border movement

Putin has proposed free border movement of Sakhalin Region and Japan’s Hokkaido Island residents.

Putin said the sides discussed the issue of allowing visa-free visits for the Japanese citizens, who used to be the citizens of the South Kuril Islands, to the tombs of their ancestors.

"We agreed that we will do everything to ensure the free access even to those areas that were previously closed for them," Putin said.

"I proposed introducing a regime of free border movement of citizens of the Sakhalin Region and Hokkaido," he said.

Putin and  Abe discussed the possibility of co-residence of citizens of both countries in the South Kuril Islands.

"I would like to do so that those who lived in the Islands earlier and those who live in the Islands now could develop ties and cooperation based on trust and do so that they could live together and work and think about the future of these Islands," Abe said.

"That’s why we spoke about how to make these Islands a zone of co-residence and joint prosperity. This is my sincere wish and I informed the president of Russia about this," he said.

"Our aspirations have touched president Putin’s heart. We have agreed that the former residents of the South Kuril Islands will be able to freely visit the places where they used to live. We also agreed on holding talks immediately in order to provide them access to the graves of their relatives," Abe added.