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Japan Recalls Ambassador From Russia in Island Dispute

The Japanese Embassy seen in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. Japan temporarily recalled its ambassador over the Russian president's visit to a disputed island off Japan's northern coast.

Angry over Russian President Dmitri Medvedev's visit to a disputed island chain, Japan has temporarily called its ambassador back from Russia. The Kremlin insists the four islands belong to Russia.

Japan Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara made the announcement. He said, taking into account President Medvedev's visit to Kunashiri Island, he has decided to temporarily recall Japan's ambassador to Russia.

Foreign Minister Maehara says he wants to hear an explanation as to why Russian President Medvedev visited one of the four islands claimed by Tokyo and Moscow. The islands are known as Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.

The Soviet Union seized the islands after declaring war on Japan at the end of World War Two, forcing more than 15,000 Japanese residents to flee the area. The territorial dispute prohibited the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty

Maehara did not specify how long the ambassador would be recalled. He said Japan hopes to clear up the questions regarding the ownership of the four northern islands, and sign a peace treaty in order to establish even better relations between Japan and Russia. He said he thinks it is very important that a win-win situation is created for both countries.

Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov maintained Mr. Medvedev's visit to the Kurile Islands was his right as the country's leader and that Moscow has no intention to strain relations with Japan.

He said Moscow is not preparing to take some kind of steps that will make Russian-Japanese cooperation more difficult, but the Japanese side must certainly draw conclusions for itself. He says he would like to stress once again that these types of reactions from their side are not acceptable.

The islands stretch from Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula to Japan's northern Hokkaido Island.

Mr. Medvedev is to visit Japan this month for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders summit.