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Russia, Japan: Still No Agreement on Kurils - 2002-02-02

The foreign ministers of Japan and Russia meeting in Tokyo have failed to narrow differences on a half-century long territorial dispute. The issue stands in the way of the two nations concluding a peace treaty from World War II.

Japan's new foreign minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi, spent her first day on the job meeting with her Russian counterpart, Igor Ivanov.

The two top diplomats did not make progress on the status of a set of islands, known as the North Territories in Japan and called the Kurils by Russia. But the officials agreed that further talks could be held at the vice ministerial level in March.

Moscow seized the islands at the end of World War II and Japan wants them back. Tokyo has refused to sign a treaty formally ending World War II until the dispute is resolved. But ministers Kawaguchi and Ivanov did agree on a common stand against international terrorism.

In a joint statement issued at the end of their meeting Saturday, Moscow and Tokyo vowed to work together to detain suspects linked to planning or implementing terrorist acts and to do their utmost to prevent weapons of mass destruction from falling into the hands of such people.

Ms. Kawaguchi, at the start of the meeting, told Mr. Ivanov that the meeting would be memorable for her as he is the first visiting minister since she assumed her post Friday. Ms. Kawaguchi got a crash course on Russian-Japanese relations in just a few hours.

A former trade diplomat, Ms. Kawaguchi is considered a solid choice to replace the popular Makiko Tanaka, who was fired this week amid a public dispute within the foreign ministry.

Her appointment is receiving praise, even from such foes of the prime minister as former opposition politician Kyosen Ohashi. "She is very intelligent, speaks good English, a very knowledgeable but tough negotiator," he said. "I think she fits that post the most."

Ms. Kawaguchi's diplomatic skills will also be put to the test in negotiations with the United States leading up to a summit later this month here between Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President George W. Bush.