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Russian, Japanese top diplomats trade barbs over disputed islands

Russia and Japan have failed to resolve their row over an island chain during frosty talks in Moscow. The discord has kept the two countries from formally signing a treaty to end World War II.

Kunashiri Island, one of the Kuril Islands

The two countries have fought over the islands for decades

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Japanese counterpart made little progress during talks in Moscow Friday on a decades-long conflict over a chain of islands off northern Japan, occupied by the Soviet army at the end of World War II.

The row over the four islands, known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, was reignited in November when Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made an unprecedented visit.

Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan described the visit as an "unforgiveable outrage" and a rifle bullet was mailed to the Russian embassy in Tokyo.

At Friday's talks, Lavrov slammed the Japanese stance.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visits one of the Russian-held islands claimed by Japan

Medvedev's visit immediately triggered protest from Tokyo

"Your visit comes against the background of a series of completely unacceptable actions," he told Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara. "When radical positions are adopted in Japan ... and they are shared by the leaders of the country, then of course any kind of dialogue has no chance," he said.

Maehara remained firm in his country's position.

"The Northern Territories are age-old Japanese territory," he said. "This can be said from the point of view of history, and from the point of view taken on the international level."

A historical stumbling block

Ahead of the closed-door talks, Lavrov described the islands as a "strategic region" of Russia, set to be the site of some of its most advanced weaponry.

"The additional weapons which will be deployed there must be sufficient and modern to ensure the security of these islands which are an inseparable part of the Russian Federation," Medvedev said on Wednesday.

Only about 19,000 people live on the islands, which have no major industry aside from fishing.

The dispute over the islands has troubled bilateral relations between the two countries despite growing economic ties, preventing them from signing a peace treaty to formally end their World War II hostilities.

Author: Holly Fox (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler

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