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Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said Saturday that a heated, decades-long territorial dispute with Russia was far from solved even as they agreed to boost security and economic cooperation.
Gemba, standing next to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, told a news briefing in Tokyo that the two sides "remain far apart" on claims to the Kuril islands off the coast of northern Japan's Hokkaido island.
"I said (to Lavrov) that it is now more necessary than ever that the two countries solve the territorial issue and sign a peace treaty so as to build a true friendly relationship," Gemba said.
The two nations have never formally signed a peace treaty as Japan maintains its claim over the islands, which Russia has controlled since Japan's surrender at the end of World War II.
Tokyo still claims the chain's four southernmost islands, a sore spot that continues to cast a cloud over Russian-Japanese relations.
President Dmitry Medvedev outraged Japan in November 2010 when he became the first Russian leader to visit the resource-rich islands.
Gemba said the territorial issue must be solved before Japan, the world's third-largest economy, invests further in the islands and Russia's underdeveloped Far East region.
"We would consider joint business activities if it helps solve the sovereignty issue," Gemba said.
"But we must not violate Japan's legal stance...In that sense, the positions (between Japan and Russia) remain far apart."
Lavrov said Russia wants "a solution acceptable to both countries."
"We would like to do so in calm atmosphere, without getting emotional," he added.
Also Saturday, the pair agreed to boost cooperation on security, defence and economic issues while simplifying visa requirements for Japanese business and non-tourist visitors to Russia.
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