|Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki (R) shakes hands with Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov prior to their talks in Tokyo, capital of Japan, Oct. 19, 2012. (Xinhua/Kenichiro Seki)
TOKYO, Oct. 19 (Xinhua) -- Japan's Deputy Foreign Minister Akitaka Saiki and his Russian counterpart Igor Morgulov on Friday agreed both countries would hold meaningful discussions over a number of issues, including the prolonged territorial standoff.
Both ministers during the working-level talks in Tokyo discussed the 1956 joint declaration made between Japan and the Soviet Union in which the Russians agreed to return two of the four islands they currently administer but are claimed by Japan, officials said.
The islands in question are Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai rocks, which are believed by Japan to be a part of the Nemuro Subprefecture of Hokkaido Prefecture and are referred to by Japan as the Northern Territories.
Russia, however, maintains that the islands that they refer to as the Southern Kurils are their territory with Russian leaders repeatedly referring to the islands as a "strategic region" of Russia.
However, the ministers indicated during their talks today that the fresh impetus provided by agreeing that the 2001 Irkutsk Statement, which confirms that the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration is a basic legal document, should become the foundation upon which a peace treaty between the two nations should be built, officials said.
The dispute, which has impacted bilateral relations between the two countries of late, over the islands' sovereignty, is largely concerned with the somewhat ambiguous San Francisco Peace Treaty.
This treaty between the Allied Powers and Japan was inked in 1951 and states that Japan must give up its claims to the islands, but recognition of sovereignty over the islands was not given to the Soviet Union either, and therein lies the conflict.
Russia, for its part, however, believes sovereignty was recognized long before the 1951 treaty, at the end of the Second World War and the territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from ever signing a post-war peace treaty.
Saiki and Morgulov, while not reaching a final conclusion on the matter, decided that a new agreement should be drafted at a summit in Russia which Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to attend.
On the sidelines of the APEC summit in Vladivostok in September, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda decided to hold the ministerial consultations and the idea of a December summit was floated in a bid for both sides to resolve the deadlocked territorial dispute, sources close to the matter said.
Following today's working level talks, Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba will hold talks with Putin's aide and Security Council secretary, Nikolai Patrushev, on Tuesday, foreign ministry officials said.
The Japanese side is hoping these talks will further smooth the way for the two nations' premiers to meet in December and expedite the islands row to an amicable conclusion and normalize relations between the two countries, observers said.
Saiki and Morgulov also jointly traversed the idea of the two nations cooperating on energy-related ventures and discussed issues related to illegal fishing in Russia's exclusive economic zone.
In September, Russia and Japan agreed to unite in efforts to crack down on poaching in the area -- particularly the profusion of Japanese fisherman with ties to Japan's underworld who are illegally profiting from catching and selling rare red king crabs to South Korea.
Both parties are under no illusions about the economic benefits the islands and their surrounding waters could provide if fully developed and the idea of the two countries working towards a roadmap of cooperation that would be conducive to the economic benefit of both sides, has already been broached.
Japan has proposed that such cooperation should encompass the territory's abundance of natural resources and the Russians have been receptive to the idea, officials have said, although Japan is still waiting for Russia to concede that the islands are Japan's sovereign territory.
Other territorial disputes that Japan is currently embroiled in were also discussed by Saiki and Morgulov, with the Russian foreign minister urging Japan to move towards resolving the rows in a peaceful manner.