Russian Leader Is Now Eager to Negotiate With Japan Over Four Disputed Islands

THE Russian Federation, hoping to conclude a peace treaty with Tokyo that would formally end World War II hostilities, is ready to negotiate a long-standing territorial dispute, a senior Russian official said yesterday.But Ruslan Khasbulatov, acting chairman of the Russian parliament, gave no indication of what stance his government would take on resolving the dispute over four tiny islands that has frozen bilateral relations since 1945. Japan refuses to consider large-scale aid to the Soviet Union until Moscow agrees to return the four islands its troops seized in the closing days of World War II, and until the two countries conclude a peace treaty. Mr. Khasbulatov, in a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Kunihiko Saito, said his government was determined to conclude a peace treaty, Japan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "I assure you that we are earnest in our desire to eliminate any obstacles to the conclusion of a peace treaty, including the territorial dispute," the statement quoted Khasbulatov as telling Minister Saito. On Monday, Khasbulatov delivered a message from Russian President Boris Yeltsin to Japan's Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu saying Russia wanted to accelerate peace treaty negotiations, stirring hopes that a breakthrough on the islands was imminent. Yeltsin's Russian Federation administers the four islands - Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan, and Habomai - which lie just northeast of Japan's northernmost island Hokkaido. In his letter, Yeltsin said future negotiations on the treaty should be conducted among equals and should be based on the principle of law and justice. Yeltsin proposed a five-point plan last year recommending that the peace treaty be handled separately from the islands dispute. He said a peace treaty should be concluded sometime during the next two decades. Khasbulatov said earlier this week that Yeltsin's five-point plan was still effective but that the Russian Federation wanted to speed up the process. Japanese analysts say that a desperate Russia, facing severe food shortages and possible famine this winter, is being forced for economic reasons to seek better relations with Japan.

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