7 February 2005 -- Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said today Japan and Russia must resolve a territorial dispute over four islands before the two nations can improve ties.
Koizumi's message was read at an annual rally in Tokyo seeking the Kurile Islands' return to Japan.
Today is Japan's Northern Territory Day, marking the anniversary of an 1855 Japan-Russia friendship treaty that gave Japan possession of the islands. The Soviet Union seized the islands near the end of World War II -- a move Japan says was illegal.
Tokyo and Moscow have had diplomatic ties since 1956, but the island dispute has kept them from signing a postwar peace treaty.
The islands are part of a chain running from Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, to Russia's eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.
About 17,000 people, nearly all Russians, live on the islands.