November 20, 2005

Putin in Tokyo for territorial talks

By Maria Golovnina

TOKYO (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived
in Tokyo on Sunday for three days of tense diplomacy aimed at
putting aside a 60-year territorial row between the Pacific
neighbors and opening the door for more trade.

His arrival was met with loud protests from Japanese
ultra-nationalists, demanding the return of four Pacific
islands seized by the Soviet army in the closing days of World
War Two.

The dispute over the tiny wind-swept islands, known as the
Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in
Russia, has marred ties between Tokyo and Moscow and prevented
them from signing a peace treaty.

"I would very much like to develop relations in the way
they have been developing in the last few years," Putin, who
last visited Japan in 2000, told reporters in his first public
comments since arriving in Tokyo.

"That gives us hope that we will be able to build relations
based on friendship and understanding ... and solve all the
questions we think have yet to be solved."

Dozens of buses with loudspeakers blaring messages such as
"Return the Northern Territories" and "Go home" attempted to
park outside the central hotel where Putin was staying, but
were kept back by a police cordon.

Some protesters carrying Japanese flags and banners briefly
clashed with police as they tried to climb over the barriers.
Police appeared to take several people into custody before the
demonstrators were dispersed.

Russia and Japan have stubbornly refused to budge from
their long-held positions on the islands, with Japan saying it
won't sign a peace treaty unless they are returned.

Russia has offered to hand over two of the islands but
Japan firmly rejected the proposal, which was based on the 1956
Japan-Soviet declaration.


A Japanese official said a political breakthrough was
unlikely on easing the deadlock.

"Given our different positions over the territorial issue,
at the moment, it looks extremely difficult for us to come up
with a new document," said a Japanese Foreign Ministry

Moscow and Tokyo want to put economic incentives above
politics and use the symbolism of this year's 150th anniversary
of their first trade treaty to open up more trade between the
world's No. 2 economy and the world's No. 2 oil exporter.

Current trade turnover between them is about $10 billion, a
tiny proportion of Japan's trade with China or the United

On Monday, Putin and more than 100 Russian businessmen were
due to attend an economic forum where Putin will meet Koizumi.

Japan is expected to try to coax guarantees from Russia to
build its huge oil pipeline to the Pacific rather than to

Under Tokyo's ideal scenario, the pipeline would deliver up
to 1.6 million barrels a day to a port close to Japan.

Although Putin will try to avoid a clear answer on the
pipeline issue, he will try to squeeze money out of Japanese
investors to develop Russia's resources-rich but poor Eastern
Siberian regions.

They will also discuss projects in Russia's Sakhalin
island, as well as cooperation between the world's No 1 gas
company, Gazprom, and Japanese firms in natural gas projects.

(Additional reporting by George Nishiyama)