Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions at a news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono, Moscow, January 14, 2019

Ladies and gentlemen,

We have concluded lengthy talks with Foreign Minister of Japan Taro Kono concerning the instructions from Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe on expediting the work on a peace treaty based on the 1956 Soviet-Japanese Joint Declaration.

As proposed by our Japanese colleagues, we agreed that we will not hold a joint news conference today. And so I thought it necessary to say a few words about what happened today. Foreign Minister Taro Kono will hold a briefing later tonight.

As I have already said, based on the instructions from our leaders, we discussed the work on a peace treaty based on the 1956 Declaration. I do not want to deny that there are substantial differences. Initially, our positions were diametrically opposed, as we have said multiple times. Our leaders’ political will, which is to fully normalise the relationship between Russia and Japan, is prompting us to intensify this dialogue.

Today we have reaffirmed our readiness to work on the basis of the 1956 Declaration, which means, above all, the immutability of the very first step – the full recognition by our Japanese neighbours of the outcome of World War II, including the Russian Federation’s sovereignty over all the islands of the South Kuril Ridge. Moreover, it is codified in the UN Charter and in numerous documents that were signed at the end of World War II, in particular on September 2, 1945 and in a number of subsequent documents. This is our basic position and without a step in this direction it is very difficult to count on any progress on other issues.

We have pointed out to our friends from Japan the fact that sovereignty over the islands is not subject to discussion. This is the territory of the Russian Federation. We also pointed out that in Japan’s legislation; these islands are designated as “northern territories,” which, of course, is unacceptable for the Russian Federation.

We asked a series of questions about how our Japanese colleagues are planning to work toward overcoming this particular problem and how the Japanese domestic legislation issues will be addressed, because in this case, it is not about interfering in internal affairs, but about legislation regulating issues that our Japanese colleagues would like to discuss and, probably, resolve with the Russian Federation. We are at the very beginning of the road.

We have a common understanding that it is necessary to drastically improve the quality of our relations to discuss the most difficult issues. In general, our relations are on the rise – there is development in the trade, economic, investment and cultural spheres. A cross year project is currently underway between Russia and Japan, which arouses a keen and lively interest among our citizens and among the residents of the Japanese islands. About five hundred events have been held, and more are planned. However, one can do immeasurably more than what is being done now in the economy and especially in investment. The agreement reached a couple of years ago between the President of Russia and the Prime Minister of Japan on the organisation of joint economic activity in the South Kuril Islands is being implemented, but on a very unimpressive scale. Five projects are planned, but not anywhere near breakthrough areas. We also pointed this out to our Japanese colleagues today and agreed that more ambitious projects would be worked out through the relevant agencies so that the joint economic activity would be more tangible.

We also touched on a number of major agreements that have been under discussion for many years and have not been implemented still. In particular, there is a need to begin formal negotiations on a preferential agreement on the trade in services and investment; consultations on expanding the scope of the Intergovernmental Agreement on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy; an agreement on the exploration and use of outer space for peaceful purposes; an agreement between the Russian Federation and Japan on social security, and naturally on removing obstacles to visa-free travel.

We told our colleagues that in recent years Russia has offered many initiatives aimed either at liberalising the travel regime for various groups such as business people, tourists, participants in sports and cultural exchanges, or even introducing visa-free travel. This is our global goal. We believe there is no reason why Russia and Japan cannot introduce visa-free travel and begin, for example, with visa-free trips for residents of Sakhalin and Hokkaido.

The third area in which we should seriously upgrade our cooperation is foreign policy, international cooperation.

Today we analysed the positions of our countries on key global and regional issues. We noted that our positions in the UN do not always coincide, or rather do not coincide in most cases. I am referring to Japan’s voting on Russia’s initiatives. This does not reflect the level of trust that President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe want to achieve.

We agreed that our deputies, as envisaged by the agreement of  our leaders to step up work on the peace treaty on the basis of the 1956 Declaration, will continue detailed contacts to clarify each other’s positions. By the next meeting of President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which is due later this month, we will report on the implementation of their instructions.

One more important aspect that I must mention concerns security cooperation. The 1956 Declaration was signed when Japan did not have a military alliance treaty with the US. The treaty was signed in 1960, after which our Japanese colleagues departed from the 1956 Declaration. Now that we are resuming talks on the basis of this declaration, we must consider the drastic change that has taken place in Japan’s military alliances since then. At today’s talks we devoted attention to the US efforts to develop a global missile defence system in Japan with a view to militarising that part of the world and also to the actions that the US formally justifies by citing the need to neutralise the North Korean nuclear threat. In reality, these actions are creating security risks for Russia and China.

I tried to give a brief account of the range of issues (we discussed them in much more detail), that our Japanese friends and we should study, clear up and try to reach a mutually acceptable approach on, for each of them. I am sure that such qualitative improvement of our cooperation, reaching the level of a trust-based partnership, will help us achieve the goals set by President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Let me recall that they spoke in favour of seeking a solution to the peace treaty problem that will be unanimously supported by the people of our countries. This is a very difficult task but we are patient and willing to move toward a common understanding.

Question: Did Foreign Minister Taro Kono comment on the recent statement by Katsuyuki Kawai, Special Adviser for Foreign Affairs to President of the Liberal Democratic Party, to the effect that Tokyo is counting on Washington’s support in concluding a peace treaty with Moscow, and Shinzo Abe’s remark that local residents will not have to leave the islands following the transfer of Shikotan to Japan. What is the position of our country?

Sergey Lavrov: We have already made a corresponding statement regarding  Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s remarks that Russian citizens will be able to stay on the islands after they are transferred under the sovereignty of Japan. Several days ago, immediately after Mr Abe had made the remarks that you mentioned, the Ambassador of Japan was invited to the Foreign Ministry. We stated how absolutely unacceptable such approaches are and how they completely contradict the understanding and agreements reached between the leaders of Russia and Japan on how to construct our peace treaty-related dialogue in the future.

With regard to Mr Kawai’s statement that the United States should be interested in concluding a treaty between Russia and Japan, as this would “strengthen the bloc” to contain China, as he put it, this is an outrageous statement. Today we stated this openly. Our Japanese colleagues noted that this gentleman does not represent the executive branch, but is an aide to the president of the Liberal Democratic Party. All this is probably true. The problem is that the president of the Liberal Democratic Party is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. We have issued a serious warning about how inappropriate such statements are. We have also inquired more broadly about how independent Japan can be in addressing any issues at all with such heavy dependence on the United States. We were assured that Japan would make decisions based on its national interests. We would like it to be that way.

Question: My question is about recognising the outcome of World War II. You said that Japan must first recognise it. Are you satisfied with Japan’s answer to this question?

Sergey Lavrov: I presented our position on the results of World War II in great detail. I noted that in addition to the San Francisco Treaty, other documents and the 1956 Declaration, which, together with the San Francisco Treaty, form a single whole and draw the final line under World War II, there is also an important document known as the UN Charter, Art. 107 of which recognises the outcome of World War II in the form in which it was legally agreed upon by the allies, as inviolable. Today we once again reminded our Japanese colleagues about this in detail. I have not heard any objections to that.

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