Japan Pressed Soviet Union to Include 1956 Declaration in 1991 Statement


Tokyo, Dec. 21 (Jiji Press)--Then Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu had repeatedly pressed then Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in a series of meetings to agree on mentioning the 1956 joint declaration, which stipulated Moscow's handover of two of the four disputed islands to Japan, in the two countries' 1991 joint statement, according to diplomatic records that were declassified Wednesday.

The documents, part of a total of 19 sets of diplomatic records of events in and around 1991, all of which were disclosed by the Japanese Foreign Ministry on the day, also showed that Gorbachev continued to reject the Japanese request during the talks.

The 1956 declaration, signed by then Japanese Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama and then Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin, stipulated that the Habomai group of islets and Shikotan, two of the four disputed northwestern Pacific islands, be transferred to Japan after Tokyo and Moscow conclude a peace treaty to formally end their World War II hostilities. The four islands were seized by the Soviet Union from Japan at the end of the war and have long been claimed by Japan. The territorial row has been preventing Tokyo and Moscow from concluding such a peace treaty.

Gorbachev became the first Soviet leader to visit Japan in April 1991. Through six rounds of talks, Kaifu and Gorbachev signed later that month the joint statement, which mentioned the four islands, collectively known as the Northern Territories in Japan. The two islands other than the Habomais and Shikotan are Kunashiri and Etorofu.

While the Soviet side had previously maintained its position that no territorial issues existed over the islands, the 1991 document used the words meaning territorial demarcation issue. It thus became the first document between Tokyo and Moscow to acknowledge that the four islands were subject to bilateral negotiations.

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