Russia and Japan fail to fix date for Putin's visit

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TOKYO, May 31 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian and Japanese foreign ministers have failed to fix the precise date of Russian President Vladimir Putin's visit to Tokyo, scheduled for this year, and to resolve differences concerning the territorial problem and the signing of a peace treaty between the two countries.

"We have agreed, however, that the Russian president's visit to Japan will take place before the end of this year. The date of the visit will be coordinated later," Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said after negotiations with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Lavrov said the visit was important.

"President Putin's visit to Japan has to be prepared qualitatively and should be an important stage in the constructive development of bilateral relations," Lavrov said.

The two men considered drafting documents for the meeting of two the leaders. The majority of these documents, Machimura said, have already been completed.

The Japanese minister said that both sides were interested in making Putin's visit as successful as possible.

In June 2004, at the G8 summit on Sea Island, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi confirmed the invitation for Putin to visit Japan at the beginning of 2005. Earlier, the Kyodo Tsushin news agency reported that the Japanese side hoped that Putin's visit to Japan will be sometime in June.

Lavrov said today's negotiations were the continuation of his meeting with Machimura last January in Moscow. The two are focusing on "filling Vladimir Putin's upcoming visit to Japan with concrete content."

But the foreign ministers failed to agree on the territorial dispute facing the two nations.

"The positions of our countries remain unchanged, and they are diametrically opposite," Lavrov said after the meeting.

But he said the sides "have confirmed their readiness to continue the conversation, trying to better understand how to settle this problem.

"In order to solve this problem it is necessary to coordinate the points of view of the public in both countries," he said. "Russia and Japan are not conducting any behind-the-scenes negotiations on the territorial problem."

The four Kuril islands of the, Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai, were transferred to the Soviet Union in 1945. Under the peace treaty, which was concluded by Japan and the Allies on September 8, 1951, Japan renounced all its rights to South Sakhalin and the Kurils.

In 1956, the Soviet Union and Japan signed a joint declaration then ratified by the USSR's Supreme Soviet. That document fixed the agreement about the transfer of the Habomai and Shikotan islands to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty between the two countries.

However, Japan insists on the return of the South Kuril islands before the signing of a peace treaty.

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