There was a frank though sometimes heated exchange of views between the Japanese and Russian foreign ministers during their recent meeting in Munich, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, TASS reported.
"The parties continue talks feeling the weight of national interests, so sometimes a heated exchange of views was taking place [at the Munich meeting]. However, it was a frank discussion," he said.
"There was a substantive exchange of views aimed at finding a mutually acceptable solution," the Japanese cabinet spokesman pointed out. "We will continue persistent talks in accordance with our commitment to making a peace treaty [with Russia], resolving the territorial dispute," Suga added.
On February 16, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono agreed that their deputies Igor Morgulov and Takeo Mori would hold consultations on the peace treaty issue in the coming weeks.
Kono told reporters later that Sergey Lavrov’s visit to Tokyo was under consideration.
Dispute over Kurils
Since the mid-20th century, Russia and Japan have been holding consultations in order to clinch a peace treaty as a follow-up to World War II. The Kuril Islands issue remains the key sticking point since after WWII the islands were handed over to the Soviet Union while Japan laid claims to the four southern islands.
In November 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a meeting on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Singapore and agreed that the two countries would accelerate the pace of the peace negotiations based on the 1956 Joint Declaration. The document ended the state of war and said that the Soviet government was ready to hand Shikotan Island and a group of small islands called Habomai over to Japan on condition that Tokyo would take control of them once a peace treaty was signed.
However, after Japan and the United States had signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in 1960, the Soviet Union withdrew its obligation to hand over the islands. A Soviet government’s memorandum dated January 27, 1960, said that those islands would only be handed over to Japan if all foreign troops were pulled out of the country.
Russia has pointed out on numerous occasions that the document does not clarify handover conditions and thus required further clarification.
Putin and Abe held a meeting in Moscow on January 21. The Russian leader confirmed that Moscow was interested in signing a peace treaty based on the 1956 document. He also emphasized the need to find a solution "that would be acceptable for the people of Russia and Japan." The parties agreed to continue boosting joint economic activities on the southern Kuril Islands in the areas of aquaculture, greenhouse farming, tourism, wind energy and waste management.
Peace treaty talks
On January 14, Lavrov and Kono held talks in Moscow, which were dedicated to the peace treaty issue. The Russian top diplomat stressed that Moscow had no intention to discuss its sovereignty over the southern Kuril Islands.