PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russia (Reuters) - Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday he would soon visit a disputed island chain off Japan, focal point of a territorial row preventing signature of a post-World War Two peace treaty.
Medvedev pointedly called the South Kurils “an important region of our country.” He made his comments as Japan remained locked in a territorial dispute with China over islets in the East China Sea.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, asked about the comments, recalled that Russia had been asked not to take such a step. He told a news conference he believed Medvedev was not referring to any specific travel plan.
Medvedev, speaking on the Kamchatka peninsula north of the islands on his return from a three-day visit to China, said plans to visit the Kurils this week had been thwarted by bad weather.
“This is an important region of our country and we will certainly go there in the near future,” he told reporters.
Japan claims a string of islands just northwest of its main northern island of Hokkaido as its own and calls them the Northern Territories.
The islands were occupied by Soviet troops in the dying days of World War Two and, despite numerous high-level diplomatic discussions, no formal peace treaty has been signed.
Reporting by Denis Dyomkin and by Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Ron Popeski