Russian media reports that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged at a Monday meeting to do “whatever it takes” to settle the Kuril Islands issue to conclude a peace treaty with
Russia. Russia and Japan have disagreed on the status of four islands since the end of World War II.

In the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, Japan renounced its control over the Kuril Islands, as well as Taiwan, the Spratlys and Paracels, and several other territories. Japan and Russia disagree, however, over whether the four islands that Tokyo calls the Northern Territories—Etorofu-to, Kunashiri-to, Shikotan-to, and Habomai-shoto—were included in the “Kurile Islands” mentioned in the treaty. Tokyo maintains that these were not included and Moscow maintains that they were. Because of this disagreement, the Soviet Union declined to sign the San Francisco Treaty. The United States has since recognized Japanese claims to the islands.

Japan and the Soviet Union attempted to sign a treaty in 1956, which would have acknowledged Japanese sovereignty over two of the four islands in question. The effort broke down due to disagreements over the attribution of the remaining two islands. Shinzo Abe has also previously attempted to resolve the Kuril issue with Russia, and in 2013 made the first visit by a Japanese Prime Minster to the Kremlin in over a decade. This diplomacy was derailed by Russian actions in Ukraine.

Russian reports cite
 Japan’s Kyodo news agency as a source for Abe’s remarks. Japanese news sources affirm that on December 1, Abe restated his longstanding interest in solving the territorial issue, as does the Prime Minister’s office, including in one English translation. No Japanese sources suggest that action is imminent, however, and Russian reporting may not have captured Abe’s comments.

About Mira Rapp-Hooper

Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper is a senior fellow in the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. She was previously director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and a fellow in the Asia Program at CSIS