Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono, Moscow, January 14, 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have concluded lengthy talks with Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono concerning the instructions from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe on expediting the work on a peace treaty based on the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration.

As proposed by our Japanese colleagues, we agreed that we will not hold a joint news conference today. And so I thought it necessary to say a few words about what happened today. Foreign Minister Taro Kono will hold a briefing later tonight.

As I have already said, based on the instructions from our leaders, we discussed the work on a peace treaty based on the 1956 Declaration. I do not want to deny that there are substantial differences. Initially, our positions were diametrically opposed, as we have said multiple times. Our leaders’ political will, which is to fully normalise the relationship between Russia and Japan, is prompting us to intensify this dialogue.

Today we have reaffirmed our readiness to work on the basis of the 1956 Declaration, which means, above all, the immutability of the very first step – the full recognition by our Japanese neighbours of the outcome of World War II, including the Russian Federation’s sovereignty over all the islands of the South Kuril Ridge. Moreover, it is codified in the UN Charter and in numerous documents that were signed at the end of World War II, in particular on September 2, 1945 and in a number of subsequent documents. This is our basic position and without a step in this direction it is very difficult to count on any progress on other issues.

We have pointed out to our friends from Japan the fact that sovereignty over the islands is not subject to discussion. This is the territory of the Russian Federation. We also pointed out that in Japan’s legislation; these islands are designated as “northern territories,” which, of course, is unacceptable for the Russian Federation.

We asked a series of questions about how our Japanese colleagues are planning to work toward overcoming this particular problem and how the Japanese domestic legislation issues will be addressed, because in this case, it is not about interfering in internal affairs, but about legislation regulating issues that our Japanese colleagues would like to discuss and, probably, resolve with the Russian Federation. We are at the very beginning of the road.

We have a common understanding that it is necessary to drastically improve the quality of our relations to discuss the most difficult issues. In general, our relations are on the rise – there is development in the trade, economic, investment and cultural spheres. A cross year project is currently underway between Russia and Japan, which arouses a keen and lively interest among our citizens and among the residents of the Japanese islands. About five hundred events have been held, and more are planned. However, one can do immeasurably more than what is being done now in the economy and especially in investment. The agreement reached a couple of years ago between the President of Russia and the Prime Minister of Japan on the organisation of joint economic activity in the South Kuril Islands is being implemented, but on a very unimpressive scale. Five projects are planned, but not anywhere near breakthrough areas. We also pointed this out to our Japanese colleagues today and agreed that more ambitious projects would be worked out through the relevant agencies so that the joint economic activity would be more tangible.

We also touched on a number of major agreements that have been under discussion for many years and have not been implemented still. In particular, there is a need to begin formal negotiations on a preferential agreement on the trade in services and investment; consultations on expanding the scope of the Intergovernmental Agreement on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy; an agreement on the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes; an agreement between the Russian Federation and Japan on social security, and naturally on removing obstacles to visa-free travel.

We told our colleagues that in recent years Russia has offered many initiatives aimed either at liberalising the travel regime for various groups such as business people, tourists, participants in sports and cultural exchanges, or even introducing visa-free travel. This is our global goal. We believe there is no reason why Russia and Japan cannot introduce visa-free travel and begin, for example, with visa-free trips for residents of Sakhalin and Hokkaido.

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