Russia, Japan leaders to meet amid islands spat

The Russian and Japanese leaders will discuss the islands spat on the sidelines of G 20 summit.

Seoul: The leaders of Russia and Japan will meet on the sidelines of a regional summit, talks certain to be dominated by their latest flare up over islands both claim.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev infuriated Tokyo by visiting one of the islands -- called the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan -- on November 1, ahead of this weekend`s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Yokohama, Japan.

The Soviet Union occupied the four islands at the end of World War Two and the territorial row has weighed on relations between Tokyo and Moscow ever since, preventing the signing of a formal peace treaty.

"The timing (of the talks with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan) is still being agreed. They will discuss the Russian-Japanese relationship," Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters.

She said the Russian position on the disputed islands had not changed and that Japan traditionally raises the territorial dispute issue at such meetings.

The two sides put off signing a memorandum on economic cooperation, planned at an investment forum in Tokyo on Friday, but the Japanese government denied a local media report the islands spat was the reason.

"My understanding is that there is no direct connection to the Russian president`s visit (to the island)," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said.

But Trade Minister Akihiro Ohata reiterated Japan`s anger of the Medvedev visit.

"The (Russian) president`s move was one that trampled on the feelings of the Japanese people," he was quoted as telling parliament.

Separately, the Nikkei business daily reported on Thursday that an agreement between the Japanese government and Russia`s gas giant Gazprom on a liquefied natural gas project has been delayed after the head of Gazprom canceled a trip to Japan.
The islands are close to oil and gas production regions of Russia, but most people live off fishing and Japan, a major fish consumer, would gain rich fishing grounds.

Japan is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with China after Japan detained the skipper of a Chinese fishing boat after it collided with Coast Guard ships near disputed isles in the East China Sea. He was later released and sent home.
The Japanese government`s handling of the two disputes has been heavily criticized at home and been a factor in the recent sharp fall in its support ratings. A poll published by Jiji news agency put Kan`s support at 27.8 percent, the lowest since he took office.

Bureau Report

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