( RIA Novosti ) - Cooperation between Russia and Japan should not suffer from the unresolved territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
Russia and Japan have disputed ownership of the southern Kuril Islands, in Russia's Far East, for over 60 years. Japan maintains that their seizure at the end of WWII was illegal, and the dispute has kept the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty.
"The comprehensive cooperation between Russia and Japan should not be a hostage of the territorial issue, which is the only complication in our relations," Mikhail Kamynin said.
Next week, on October 23, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will arrive in Tokyo on a two-day official visit.
"We hope that the forthcoming visit will continue the course assumed by both countries toward the expansion of cooperation on a broad variety of issues, and will help to improve mutual understanding and trust between Russia and Japan," Kamynin said.
During the visit, Lavrov will meet for the first time with his Japanese counterpart, Masahiko Komura. The 65-year-old former defense minister was appointed foreign minister on September 25 in a government reshuffle.
In the Treaty of San Francisco signed by Japan and the Allied Powers in 1951, which formally ended WWII, Japan renounced its rights to the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. However, the four southern Kuril Islands were not specifically mentioned in the treaty, which was not signed by the Soviet Union.
Last year, Russia offered to return to Japan the Shikotan and Khabomai islands, with a combined area of just 276 square kilometers (172 square miles), or 6% of the disputed territory, on the condition that Tokyo renounce its claims to the two larger islands, Iturup and Kunashir, whose combined area totals 4,629 square kilometers (2,890 square miles). Japan rejected the proposal, claiming its right to all four islands.