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Japan-Russia Talks Hope to Formally End WWII Hostilities - 2002-10-13

Japan's foreign minister is visiting Moscow for talks expected to be overshadowed by the fact that Russia and Japan have never formally ended World War II hostilities.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi is in Moscow to prepare the way for a meeting between the leaders of Russia and Japan in January.

She spent most of the day Saturday with her Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov, agreeing on a six-point plan to develop relations.

The plan includes increased cooperation on economic relations and will be the basis for the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President Vladimir Putin.

But Ms. Kawaguchi stressed that the most important issue is to finally agree on a World War II peace treaty. She said the lack of such a treaty between two internationally authoritative, neighboring countries was "not a normal state of affairs."

No treaty was ever signed because of Russia's seizure of four islands in the final days of World War II. Known as the Kuril Islands in Russia, Japan calls them the "Northern Territories" and has demanded since 1945 they be handed back.

The territorial dispute has long hindered trade and other relations between the two nations.

Ten-years ago former President Boris Yeltsin indicated a willingness to discuss a compromise on the issue. But nationalist and Communist politicians have always refused to negotiate the dispute over the islands.

Analysts say that Mr. Putin may also want to show some flexibility on the issue. But many point out that he has already expended much political capital with his support for the war against terrorism. He has also angered some hardliners for not opposing the expected entry of the three former Soviet Baltic republics into the NATO military alliance.

So, the analysts say it appears unlikely that a resolution of the longstanding territorial question with Japan will come any time soon.