Japan’s foreign ministry has declassified files on negotiations over the Kuril Islands held with the US in 1960. It follows from the documents that Nobusuke Kishi, the then Japanese prime minister, in the run-up to the meeting with US President Dwight Eisenhower, was going to discuss the possibility of Japan agreeing to obtain only two, not four South Kuril Islands from the USSR.
“It has been discussed recently in our country that we must solve the issue [over the islands] of Habomai, Shikotan plus ‘alpha’ [some additional condition] and sign the peace agreement”, the document has it, going on to specify Japanese fishermen’s demand as an argument to agree to the return of Habomai and Shikotan under Japanese control conditioned that the USSR should recognise some potential possibilities with regard to Kunashir and Iturup or “provide guarantees of safety for the fishing industry in the region”.
Russo-Japanese relations have long been tarnished due to the absence of a peace agreement after the end of World War Two. Japan is striving to claim control over the following Kuril Islands – Kunashir, Shikotan, Iturup, and the group of islands called Habomai, referring to the bipartisan document on trade and borders from 1855. In 1956 the two parties signed a joint declaration, with Russia expecting the document to put an end to the row, but which Japan deemed as only a partial resolution of the issue, and hence, did not give up its claims.
Moscow has reiterated on multiple occasions that the islands became part of Russian territory as a result of post-war world redivision, and Russia’s sovereignty over them are not up for debate. Further negotiations on the subject have yielded no results, and a post-war peace agreement has never been concluded.
During Vladimir Putin's traditional end-of-the-year press conference on December 20, the Russian president stressed that both parties are interested "in a full settlement" in their relations, namely a peace treaty. Putin noted that Moscow was concerned about the deployment of US missile defence systems in the country, and added that security issues were extremely important when it comes to inking a peace treaty with Tokyo.
A high-profile meeting between Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe took place on November 14, in the wake of which the Japanese prime minister announced that the parties had agreed to speed up the negotiations on the peace deal based on the 1956 declaration. Until now, Japan’s official position consisted of demands that Japan get back the territories of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan, and Habomai and only then conclude a peace deal.