- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2000

TOKYO The leaders of Russia and Japan pledged yesterday to press on toward a peace treaty, despite failing to resolve a territorial dispute that has blocked a pact for more than five decades.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori ended two days of talks without progress over claims to four islands off northern Japan that Russia seized at the end of World War II.

"It was all they could do to agree to continue peace treaty talks, giving us a glimpse of how far apart they are in their views," the national Yomiuri newspaper said yesterday.

Despite hopes for signing a peace treaty during this trip, Mr. Putin backed off, saying: "The important thing is not setting up a deadline, but that both countries have good faith."

Mr. Mori said: "We confirmed that we will continue negotiations for a peace treaty by resolving the issue of sovereignty over the four islands, based on all the negotiations in the past."

The islands known as the Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan have stood in the way of a peace treaty that would formally end more than 50 years of hostility.

Moscow has not accepted Tokyo's suggestion of putting the islands under Japanese sovereignty while letting Russia continue to administer them.

Tokyo stands firm against Moscow's earlier suggestion that they formally end their hostilities without resolving the island dispute.

Pride and emotion are entwined in the territorial dispute.

Russia is unwilling to relinquish its control over the islands because Russian leaders are loathe to lose another piece of the former Soviet Union. Also, the islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds.

Tokyo still smarts from the forced evacuation of 10,000 Japanese from the islands in 1945 when Russian soldiers took the islands.

While Mr. Mori and Mr. Putin held talks Monday, right-wing extremists circled the meeting site in black sound trucks, blaring martial music and demanding the return of the islands.

With little progress in the dispute over the islands, the two leaders turned their attention to improving relations by cooperating in regional security and economic matters.

Mr. Putin emphasized that he wanted Tokyo and Moscow to tighten their strategic relationship and ensure stability in northeast Asia. He also invited Mr. Mori to visit Russia, but no date was set.

The two sides signed agreements including a program on developing trade and economic relations, joint efforts to aid the economic development of the Kurils, cooperation in energy, Japanese assistance in dismantling Russian nuclear arsenals and strengthening cooperation between the two nations' border guards.

"I hope in the near future we will keenly feel that both countries are vital to the other," Mr. Putin said at a joint news conference before leaving yesterday for New York to attend the U.N. Millennium Summit.

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