Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin deliver their statements at a joint press conference following their talks in Vladivostok, Russia. -AFP
President Vladimir Putin suggested Wednesday Russia and Japan sign a peace deal "without any preconditions" by the end of the year, a historic proposal to try to solve a territorial dispute after decades of deadlock. Putin's sudden proposal came just two days after he said that the two countries' territorial dispute was unlikely to be settled soon.
The dispute between Russia and Japan centers on the four southernmost islands in the Kuril chain which the Soviet Union occupied at the end of World War II in 1945 but are claimed by Japan. It has kept the two countries from signing a peace accord.
"We have been trying to solve the territorial dispute for 70 years. We've been holding talks for 70 years," Putin said at an economic forum in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. "Shinzo said: 'let's change our approaches.' Let's! Let's conclude a peace agreement, not now but by year's end without any preconditions," Putin said, with the audience breaking into applause.
"It is not a joke," Putin added, suggesting the two countries commit to solving the territorial dispute in the text of the agreement. Putin said the conclusion of such a deal would create a better atmosphere and allow the two countries to "continue to solve all outstanding issues like friends."
"It seems to me that this would facilitate the solution of all problems which we have not been able to solve during the past 70 years." The Japanese prime minister for his part said the two countries "have a duty to future generations." "Let us walk together mindful of the questions 'If we don't do it now, then when?'
And 'if we don't do it, then who will?'" Abe said, speaking before Putin. "We are both fully aware that it will not be easy." On Monday, Putin had seemed to pour cold water on suggestions that the dispute could be solved soon. "It would be naive to think that it can be solved quickly," Putin said after meeting Abe on the sidelines of the forum.
But some diplomats said the proposal was a non-starter. A former Russian deputy foreign minister, Georgy Kunadze, said he doubted that Putin wanted to solve the territorial problem in earnest. "This is called trolling. Putin does not expect anything," Kunadze told Echo of Moscow radio station.
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