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Japan-Soviet Ties Stalled Over Kuril Isles

Soviet visits yield talk but little progress

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THE cold war may be over in Europe, but the chill is still on in relations between Japan and the Soviet Union. Senior Foreign Ministry officials of both countries held a lengthy meeting here last week as part of ongoing negotiations to improve bilateral relations. But no progress was made as they remained locked in a tough dispute over the so-called ``Northern Territories'' that Japan claims the Soviet Union seized at the end of the World War II.

``We could not narrow the difference between each other's position,'' says Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Rogachev at a press conference after the Dec. 18 meeting.

The negotiation stalled on the issue of four islands - Shikotan, Iturup Ostrov, Kunashir, and Habomai-shoto - that were surrendered to the Soviet Union under the Yalta agreement. Japan insists that the isles off the northeast tip of Hokkaido be returned and has refused substantial expansion of economic ties with Moscow.

During the six-and-a-half-hour meeting, the Soviet side spent four-and-a-half hours explaining its perspective on the legitimacy of the Soviet claim to the Kuril Islands from an international legal, historical, and geographical point of view. It also proposed an exchange of draft peace treaties that include the territorial issue. The Japanese agreed to give a detailed answer at the next meeting, which will come before Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze's scheduled visit to Japan next March.

At the moment, the Japanese see the Soviet proposal as a diplomatic strategy - an attempt to support the Soviet claim to the islands, rather than to work toward reconciliation of the issue. According to Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman Taizo Watanabe, ``They are trying to prompt the procedure in the direction they want to achieve.''


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