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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sakhalin Governor Says Return Of Kurils Rejected by Ministry

Russia has effectively ruled out the return to Japan of four small islands that have for decades hampered relations but remains keen to conclude a formal peace treaty by 2000, Itar-Tass reported Tuesday.

Quoting Igor Farkhudtinov, governor of the Far Eastern Sakhalin region which administers the islands, Itar-Tass said the Foreign Ministry had set out its position in a letter addressed to him.

The letter referred to a reply given by President Boris Yeltsin to Tokyo's proposal that the international border be redrawn to the north of Etorofu, one of the disputed islands, thereby recognizing Japanese sovereignity over all four.

His reply, given last month during a visit to Moscow by Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi, was never published.

"The essence of Russia's reply is that Japan's proposal ... is unacceptable for us," Itar-Tass quoted Farkhudtinov as saying.

"But the Russian side considers it expedient to continue the search for a mutually acceptable resolution [of the issue], takinginto account current realities which cannot be ignored," Farkhutdinov cited the letter as saying.

He did not elaborate but was apparently referring to Moscow's view that any transfer of Russian territory, especially at a time of deep economic crisis and wounded national pride, would trigger a fierce nationalist backlash at home.

Farkhutdinov also said Yeltsin had told the Japanese that he still hoped to clinch a peace and friendship treaty formally ending World War II hostilities by the year 2000, as he and Obuchi's predecessor Ryutaro Hashimoto had vowed to do last year at an informal meeting in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk.