The unresolved status of four Pacific Ocean islands should not hamper the development of greater trade and political relations between Japan and Russia, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said in an interview.
Speaking before an official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Japan, Koizumi also suggested to Russian state-run television program "Vesti Nedeli" that signing a peace treaty between Russia and Japan to formally end World War II was contingent on resolving the issue of the four Kuril islands, known as the Northern Territories by Japan.
"I think that it is necessary to sign a peace treaty on the basis of resolving this territorial question," Koizumi said, according to a translated transcript of the interview, which was broadcast Sunday.
However, asked whether resolving the islands' status must come before signing a peace treaty, the Japanese leader said: "I don't take the position that it is impossible to develop bilateral relations without the resolution of territorial problems."
Putin's visit next week comes amid continuing demands from Japan for Russia to cede four of the Kuril Islands, located just off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The dispute over the islands, which were seized by Soviet troops near the end of World War II, has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty.
Putin said in September that Moscow was not ready to discuss ceding control of the islands, but said he hoped that good will on both sides would help them reach a mutually acceptable solution
"Resolving the question of the four islands will open the road to great widening of bilateral relations, in my opinion," he said.
Japan is also eagerly anticipating the construction of a pipeline to pump Siberian oil across Russia's Far East to a Pacific port for transport to Japanese markets. Japan has been wrangling over the pipeline's route with China, which is eagerly seeking to fuel some of its torrid economic growth with Siberia's oil and gas reserves.
Koizumi said the two countries' mutual interests must be considered in deciding the pipeline's final route.
"We think not only of profits, of the interests of the Japanese side, but of the interests of the Russian side," he said.
"Despite the fact that Japanese-Russian relations have great potential, our relations are still not realizing their future potential," he said, AP reported. V.A.