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Russia: Japan Cautiously Backs Plan To Develop Kuril Islands

Tokyo, 15 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Russia received cautious Japanese support today for its proposal to jointly develop disputed Kuril islands.

Former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone said it could be an "important first step" in boosting bilateral economic ties.

Japanese officials said Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov outlined the joint development proposal during separate talks with senior officials from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and his Japanese counterpart, Yukihiko Ikeda.

Ikeda reportedly told Primakov that Tokyo would consider the proposal for "joint economic activity" on the southern Kuril islands. However, both sides said there were no major breakthroughs on the dispute.

The Associated Press news agency said Primakov acknowledged that working together in commercially developing the Southern Kurils, which Japan claims as its Norther territories, will not directly solve the dispute, but would help improve bilateral relations.

In a possibly linked gesture, Reuters news agency quoted Japanese Foreign Ministry officials as saying Japan had agreed to release a $500 million aid packege for Russia, which had been frozen since 1991. The officials said the bulk of the aid package could now be made available for commercial and industrial projects in the form of loans from Japan's Import-Export bank.

The Kuril islands, rich in fishing resources, were seized by the Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II. The two nations have yet to sign a peace treaty after the war, because of the islands dispute.