MOSCOW — Russia's top diplomat on Monday threw cold water on Tokyo's hopes for a quick return of disputed islands in the Pacific, warning Japan that it must recognize them as part of Russia's territory as a starting point for talks. The stern statement from Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which followed the talks with his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono, appeared to reflect Moscow's efforts to temper Japanese expectations of an imminent deal.
İt sets a tough stage for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's trip to Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this month. Abe has recently voiced hope that this year will mark a breakthrough in solving the territorial dispute and spoke about an imminent change in the islands' status — remarks that angered Moscow.
"Russia's sovereignty over the islands isn't subject to discussion. They are part of the territory of the Russian Federation,'' Lavrov told reporters, noting that the U.N. Charter supports Moscow's ownership of them.
Speaking at the start of the talks, Kono emphasized that the two countries need to solve the territorial problem to set stage for expanding their economic and other ties.
But reflecting sharp differences at the talks, the Japanese delegation has scheduled a separate briefing later in the day.
The Soviet Union took the four southernmost Kuril Islands during the final days of World War II. Japan asserts territorial rights to the islands, which it calls the Northern Territories, and the dispute has kept both countries from signing a peace treaty.
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