Japan not going to split disputed islands with Russia

Japan is not considering solving a dispute with Russia over an island group by splitting the total area of the territory, Japan's foreign minister said Friday.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso discussed such a split of the Russian-held islands north of Japan in parliament on Wednesday. On Friday, he denied that the discussion suggested Tokyo would make such a proposal to Moscow.

The islands - known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Kuril islands in Russia - were held by Tokyo but seized by Moscow in the closing days of World War II. The dispute has blocked the signing of a formal peace treaty between them.

Japan has rejected a proposal to split the four islands between them. Aso on Wednesday pointed out that a deal giving each side 50 percent of the total area of the territory would give Japan three of the islands and a quarter of the northernmost one.

But Aso said it was just a theoretical discussion.

"There is no truth to a newspaper report that the government is actually considering a proposal to split the total area in half," Aso told reporters, according to the Foreign Ministry's Web site.

In parliament on Wednesday, Aso acknowledged that the decades-old idea of giving the two southernmost islands to Tokyo and the two others to Moscow would apportion more territory to Russia, the AP said.

"Talking about two islands, three islands or four without taking land area into account is unacceptable," Aso said under questioning by the opposition on Wednesday. "We must carry forward negotiations in a sufficiently realistic way."

Aso added that progress toward resolving the dispute needed to be made before Russian President Vladimir Putin's term ends in May 2008 because he is willing to settle the tiff.

Japan has publicly rejected as insufficient a proposal - included in a 1956 Soviet-Japanese declaration - in which Moscow offered two of the islands to Tokyo. Putin recently tried to revive the idea, but it was shot down again by Japan.

The island dispute is a favorite issue of Japanese right-wing politicians, who have demanded return of all four islands, a position rejected by Moscow.

Tensions between the countries worsened in the wake of the fatal shooting of a Japanese fisherman and a seizure of the boat by the Russia coast guard in the disputed northern waters this past summer.

In a teleconference with Putin in late October, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for negotiations over the territories to be accelerated so a peace treaty can be signed.

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