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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Yeltsin Aide to Visit Disputed Kuril Islands

Senior Kremlin aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky plans to visit the Russian islands claimed by Tokyo shortly before President Boris Yeltsin travels to Japan next month, an official said Monday.

Yastrzhembsky, who is Yeltsin's press secretary and also advises the president on foreign policy, will be one of the highest ranking officials ever to visit the disputed islands, which have long blocked improved ties between Russia and Japan.

"There are plans for him to visit Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands, but the dates of the trip have not yet been finalized," a spokesman at Yastrzhembsky's office said.

He added that Yastrzhembsky's visit would take place before Yeltsin holds an informal summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on April 11-13 on the Izu peninsula southwest of Tokyo.

The spokesman said he could not comment on Yastrzhembsky's program, but Itar-Tass said his talks with regional leaders would focus on joint Russian and Japanese economic development of the disputed islands.

Last year, Tokyo dropped its insistence that Moscow hand back the four disputed islands, known in Japan as the Northern Territories, before it strengthened its economic ties with Russia.

In their first informal talks last November in Siberia, Yeltsin and Hashimoto pledged to conclude a peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities by the year 2000 and to boost long-neglected trade.

The territorial issue has for decades prevented the signing of a peace treaty between the two former Cold War foes.

Last week, Japanese media reported that Russia had conceded the validity of a 1956 joint declaration with Japan calling for the return of two of the four disputed islands.

The islands, which lie just off Japan's main northern island of Hokkaido, were seized by Soviet troops in the final days of World War II.