MOSCOW • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting his Japanese counterpart that Japan must recognise Russia's sovereignty over islands disputed by both countries in order for peace talks to continue.
The two diplomats met for the first time since leaders of the two countries agreed last year to increase efforts to sign a treaty ending World War II.
Talks stalled for decades because of Japan's claim to the disputed islands - known as the South Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan - which were seized by the Soviet army in the final days of World War II.
"Sovereignty over the islands is not up for discussion; this is Russian territory," Mr Lavrov said in a briefing, following talks with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono.
Moscow is willing to work towards a peace resolution provided Japan recognises "the entirety of results of World War II, including Russia's sovereignty over all of the islands of the southern Kuril chain", he said.
Mr Lavrov said this basic premise is reflected in the 1956 joint declaration of the Soviet Union and Japan, which Moscow is willing to use as a starting point. "This is our base position and, without steps in this direction, it is very difficult to expect movement forward on other issues," he added.
Mr Lavrov said that for the time being, efforts to jointly develop the islands as per recent bilateral agreements have not been particularly successful.
The disputed Kuril islands, one of which lies less than 10km from Japan's Hokkaido island, consist of Kunashir, Iturup, Shikotan and Habomai.
Japan and the Soviet Union signed the 1956 document stipulating that the USSR was willing to cede Shikotan and Habomai following a signed peace agreement, but Japan demanded all four islands.
Mr Lavrov on Monday said it was "unacceptable" that Japan still called the islands Northern Territories in its national law.
In working with the 1956 declaration, Russia would also need to reconcile it with the fact that Japan has since entered into a military alliance with the United States. "Now, of course, we have to take into account that the situation with regard to Japan's military alliances has drastically changed," Mr Lavrov said.
US efforts to "militarise" the Asia-Pacific region created additional risks for Russia, he added.
Unusually, the two foreign ministers did not appear in a joint press conference but scheduled two separate briefings for the media. Mr Lavrov said this was done at Tokyo's request. He said any peace settlement would have to be "supported and accepted by the people in our countries".