Russia's Lavrov says difficult to solve peace treaty issue with Japan

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday it would be difficult to close the gap in positions over a peace treaty and territorial dispute with Japan, two weeks before President Vladimir Putin visits.

A territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow over a chain of western Pacific islands, seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War Two, has upset diplomatic relations ever since, precluding a formal peace treaty between the two countries.

“It’s not easy to bridge the gap in the principal positions of both sides, the problem is difficult,” said Lavrov at a joint briefing with Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida in Moscow.

“But despite all these difficulties, we expressed mutual readiness to attempt moves in solving the practical issues, so that would help the development of cooperation between the neighboring regions of the two countries,” Lavrov said.

In September, Putin met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Russia’s eastern port city of Vladivostok where both agreed to deepen economic ties and work to make headway on negotiations for the conclusion of a peace treaty ahead of his Japan visit in December.

Concessions over the islands would carry risks for Putin but could boost Japanese investment in Russia at a time when Moscow, battered by low global oil prices and Western sanctions, badly needs an injection of cash.

Kishida said on Saturday the territorial dispute should be solved on a mutually agreeable basis.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Susan Thomas