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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Offers Joint Kuril Management

Combined Reports

Russia received cautious Japanese support Friday for plans to jointly develop the bitterly disputed Kuril islands, as the Japanese announced the release a $500 million aid package for Russia which has been frozen since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov outlined the proposal during separate talks with senior officials from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, and his Japanese counterpart, Yukihiko Ikeda.

Ikeda told Primakov that Tokyo would "consider" the proposal for "joint economic activity" on the southern Kuril islands.

Moscow seized the islands -- Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islets -- in the closing days of World War II after abandoning its neutrality pact with Tokyo. The subsequent territorial dispute has soured ties ever since and has also prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty.

Primakov made the same proposal earlier Friday during a meeting with former prime minister Yasuhiro Nakasone and LDP policy affairs research council chairman Taku Yamasaki, party officials said.

"I would like to propose the joint development of the four islands in a form that would not hurt the stance of Japan or Russia," he said.

"The Japan-Russia relationship will not make any progress if the two countries merely maintain the current state of affairs," Primakov said, citing the case of Britain and Argentina which are jointly developing oil on the Falkland Islands.

In reply, Nakasone said: "Japan should put priority on national sovereignty over the islands, although the proposal is interesting. The proposal could be an important step toward expanding bilateral economic ties."

Yamasaki later told reporters that the LDP wanted to consider the offer. "We would like to consider if there is any possibility of development that would not hurt sovereignty problems," the senior LDP official said.

At a news conference later Friday, Primakov outlined four sectors for joint development: fisheries, marine product processing, tourist infrastructure and transport.

"The Japanese side said it would carefully consider the proposal," he said. "Joint economic activity is not particularly aimed at resolving the territorial dispute; it's aimed at creating a better atmosphere for bilateral ties."

Primakov arrived in Japan on Thursday for a four-day visit. His talks with Ikeda marked the first such meeting since March when Ikeda visited Moscow.

During Friday's talks between the two foreign ministers, Japan reiterated that it planned to extend $500 million in loans to Russia as part of an assistance package pledged several years ago, a foreign ministry official said.

"Ikeda told Primakov during the meeting that we will implement the $500 million loan by the Export-Import Bank of Japan," he said.

Japan's aid package, originally meant for "humanitarian assistance," was frozen in 1991 amidst the turmoil of the Soviet Union's collapse.

The aid at that time was restricted to the medical field and only a tiny fraction of it was disbursed to four small hospital projects before the package frozen.

The bulk of the aid package could now be made available for commercial and industrial projects in the form of loans from Japan's Export-Import Bank, the ministry officials said.

Japanese media reports have said possible projects eligible for loans include a car plant outside Moscow, industrial water works at Nahodka in the Russian Far East, and various plants for manufacturing car tires, baby food and plastic bottles in other parts of Russia.

Primakov and Ikeda also reconfirmed a declaration calling for "the resolution of the territorial dispute based on law and justice" -- made during President Boris Yeltsin's Tokyo visit in 1993.

"We want to build relations based on the 1993 declaration," Primakov said.

The two ministers also agreed to expand visa-free exchanges between the Russian-held islands and Japan. Until now, such exchanges have been limited to former residents of the islands and journalists.

In addition, the ministers affirmed efforts to conclude talks on ensuring the safety of Japanese fishing boats operating near the islands.

During talks with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto later Friday, Primakov said he planned to deliver a letter from Yelstin inviting the Japanese leader to visit Russia next year.

The Foreign Ministry said a decision had not yet been made on whether Hashimoto would visit Russia.

Primakov is to leave for China on Sunday. ()