"All the inhabitants of the Northern Territories [the Kuril Islands] are Russians. Our position at the negotiations is not about saying 'please, get out of there'," Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an interview with the Asahi broadcaster, when asked how to resolve the situation around Tokyo’s territorial claims to the islands.
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According to Abe, "it is necessary to get their permission for the return" of the islands. He suggested that Russians and Japanese could live and work together.
The Prime Minister assured that US troops stationed in Japan do not pose any threat to Russia.
"American troops are stationed in Japan to ensure security in Japan and the Far East, and are in no way hostile to Russia," Abe said.
The prime minister noted that he had explained it to Russian President Vladimir Putin and expressed hope that the latter understood this.
The comment referred to Putin's statement at his annual press conference in December, saying that Russia had no clear idea of the extent of Japan's sovereignty in light of US military presence in Okinawa despite protests of local authorities and residents. The president stressed that it was the factor to be taken into account while negotiating a peace treaty with Tokyo.
Abe is expected to visit Russia later in January. The planned visit comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Abe agreed to advance negotiations on a peace treaty based on the 1956 Soviet-Japanese joint declaration.
Among other things, the declaration stipulates that Japan will regain control over the islands of Habomai and Shikotan, following the conclusion of the peace treaty. Earlier, the two countries ratified the declaration, but Japan reneged and refused to implement the agreement, insisting on the transfer of all four islands.