Extraordinary Press Conference by Foreign Minister Taro Kono
Friday, May 10, 2019, 3:38 p.m. Moscow, Russian Federation
Mr. Taro Kono, Minister for Foreign Affairs: Today, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov and I held negotiations regarding a peace treaty for approximately four hours, including a working lunch. With regard to concluding a peace treaty, we held an in-depth discussion in order to find a solution acceptable to both sides, in accordance with last November’s agreement between the two leaders. In preparation for today’s talks, the points at issue were distilled at the deputy minister level following the Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Munich in February. Today, we discussed quite candidly, especially about areas on which we have different positions. The items we agreed upon at the meeting are as I stated at the joint press announcement. While I will not go into the content of the meeting, I, following on from previous foreign ministers’ meetings, clearly stated Japan’s assertions concerning the matters on which Japan and Russia have different positions. Although these were stern talks, frank discussions took place based on the relationship of trust developed over the years between Minister Lavrov and myself, with today’s meeting marking our tenth meeting in total since my appointment as Foreign Minister. Minister Lavrov and I also held various discussions towards our shared goal of holding a fruitful summit meeting in June. As I stated at the joint press announcement, we agreed on the schedule of the working groups regarding joint economic activities. We also confirmed that the two countries will continue to steadily advance the humanitarian measures for former island residents. The two of us will once again instruct working-level officials to carry out relevant tasks diligently, and will again confirm the progress when Minister Lavrov visits Japan at the end of this month. In order to establish a true partnership, which is a strategic interest for both Japan and Russia, we intend to persistently advance the negotiations regarding a peace treaty. During the working lunch, we continued to discuss the negotiations regarding a peace treaty between Japan and Russia.
Minister Lavrov will visit Japan on May 30, and a Japan-Russia Foreign and Defense Ministerial Consultation (“2+2” Ministerial Meeting) and a Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be held in Tokyo. We look forward to continuing to hold good discussions ahead of the summit meeting in June. I will now take your questions.
Reporter: I believe there was a working lunch following your earlier joint press announcement. Specifically, what kinds of views were exchanged during the working lunch? In your press conference earlier, you stated that North Korea’s flying objects and Russia-North Korea relations will also be discussed. What was discussed regarding such matters? Can you tell us if the abductions issue was raised?
Minister Kono: At the working lunch, we continued to discuss the issue of concluding a peace treaty. Most of the discussion was related to this issue from beginning to end. We touched a little on North Korea, but I would like to refrain from disclosing the details.
Reporter: I have one more question. It is about a slightly different topic. Yesterday, North Korea launched short-range ballistic missiles. I believe it breaches the sanctions resolutions of the United Nations. Could you explain again what responses the Government of Japan will take? In addition, Prime Minister Abe has suggested conceding to hold a Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting without any conditions. How will the latest launch affect the Prime Minister’s intention?
Minister Kono: The launch of a short-range ballistic missile is a clear violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. We will work to continue to ensure the full implementation of UNSC resolutions by the international community, while maintaining close Japan-U.S. and Japan-U.S.-ROK trilateral cooperation. We will work to fully address ship-to-ship transfers which serve as loopholes, among other issues. With regard to the abductions issue, the families of the abductees are reaching an advanced age, and given such circumstances, the Prime Minister would like to make progress by not missing out any opportunity. We will thus continue to fully pursue this matter.
Reporter: I have a question regarding the Japan-Russia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. During the earlier joint press announcement, as well as your remarks just now, you acknowledged that there are differences in your positions, while on the other hand, you stated that you aim to build a true partnership. Russia often mentions trust. Is it your view that there is still inadequate trust between Japan and Russia? Could you tell us your thoughts regarding the efforts which are needed to develop this trust and how they will contribute to concluding a peace treaty?
Minister Kono: In my view, Prime Minister Abe and President Putin have an extremely strong personal relationship of trust, and Minister Lavrov and I have also steadily fostered a relationship of trust. Based on such relationship, we intend to steadily carry out the negotiations regarding a peace treaty. While reaching an agreement that is acceptable to both sides will not be easy, as this issue has remained unresolved for 70 years, we intend to distill the points at issue and move forward one step at a time.
Reporter: This was the third Foreign Ministers’ Meeting following the meetings in January and February. In your press conference today, you stated that the two sides were unable to close the gap in views on basic positions and that doing so is difficult. Is it your view that narrowing your differences is far more difficult than you had initially imagined, that it is more difficult than you had previously thought?Minister Kono: We both view that it will not be easy as this issue has remained unresolved for 70 years. The leaders have already agreed to accelerate the negotiations for concluding a treaty. As the ones responsible for the negotiations, we both intend to steadily advance the negotiations in accordance with the leaders’ instructions.
Reporter: I have a question about the schedule. Minister Lavrov will be in Japan on May 30 and 31. Have you decided what will be held on which day?
Minister Kono: Minister Lavrov will visit Japan on May 30, and a “2+2” Ministerial Meeting and a Foreign Ministers’ Meeting will be conducted. The details will be finalized going forward.
Reporter: So there may be something on the 31st?
Minister Kono: The details will be finalized going forward.
Reporter: During the joint press announcement earlier, Minister Lavrov mentioned people-to-people exchanges between Sakhalin and Hokkaido. Minister Lavrov stated that the two of you also discussed and were able to coordinate on such matters. Did such discussions take place?
Minister Kono: In order to carry out the joint economic activities, there also needs to be discussion on the movement of people while maintaining the legal positions of the two sides. To this end, working groups will be held in May for finalizing the details regarding this matter.
Reporter: During today’s press conference, Minister Lavrov stated that it is necessary to acknowledge the outcomes of World War II. In response, I believe you stated that, as is known, a peace treaty has not been concluded because the boundary of the Northern Territories has not been determined. Can I ask you again what your intention was in making those remarks? Does it mean your positions differ the most on this matter? Can you tell us once more in further detail what your intention was in making those remarks and on what issue your positions differ the most?
Minister Kono: The positions of Japan and Russia differ in a variety of areas. I believe all of you are already aware of such differences. I would like to refrain from commenting publicly on the areas in which we reached agreement in the negotiations and the areas where we have differences.