Japan to negotiate with Russia on disputed islands from same position

Japan will negotiate with Russia on disputed islands off Hokkaido with no change in its basic position, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Wednesday.

"I understand (Japan) will hold negotiations (with Russia) while maintaining its basic position," Press Secretary Kuni Sato told reporters when asked about a bilateral vice foreign minister-level meeting Friday in Tokyo.

Japan maintains that if Russia acknowledges the four islands as belonging to Japan, Japan is prepared to respond flexibly to the timing and manner of their actual return. But Russia has so far shown no signs of making such a confirmation.

Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama will represents Japan at Friday's meeting, while the Russian delegation will be led by Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov. The meeting follows similar talks between Sugiyama and Morgulov last August in Moscow.

"I expect Japan and Russia to hold several rounds of talks including at the vice minister level," Sato said. "We will steadily negotiate toward the return (of the islands) while maintaining the basic position."

The dispute over the islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a peace treaty.

Along with the territorial issue, Sugiyama and Morgulov are expected to discuss economic cooperation and cultural exchange, as well as regional issues such as North Korea, according to another Foreign Ministry official.