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Japan Softens Language over Russian-Held Islands

RIA Novosti

15:53 02/03/2012 MOSCOW, March 2 (RIA Novosti) - The Japanese government on Friday dropped the somewhat provocative wording, "illegal occupation," for its territorial dispute with Russia over the Kuril islands, Japan's Sankei newspaper reported.

Tokyo will henceforth describe the islands - which it calls the Northern Territories - as being "occupied without legal grounds" by Russia. The four islands were seized by Soviet troops in 1945.

The government took the decision because it is looking to resolve the decades-long dispute, which has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty to end World War II.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said Moscow would "study" Japan's move.

"I don't see any principal changes here, however, because this seems to be the same legal position we hear about from the Japanese colleagues every time we start discussing the territorial issue," Lukashevich told reporters in Moscow.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in an interview with foreign media on Friday a resolution "will come with the growth of the volume of our mutual cooperation."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sparked a diplomatic row with Tokyo in November 2010 by making the first ever visit by a Russian leader to the Kuril islands.

He later said Russia would increase its military presence there. Japan’s then prime minister Naoto Kan called Medvedev’s visit an "inexcusable rudeness."

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