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Russia-Japan Isles Dispute Gets Top Billing in Japan With AM-Summit Rdp, Bjt

July 8, 1992

TOKYO (AP) _ Two sentences that nudge Russia toward returning a few cold islands went largely unnoticed in six of the nations that signed the political declaration at the summit in Munich.

Not so in the seventh. Support for Japan’s demand that Russia return the northern Kuril islands seized at the end of World War II was treated here as the biggest news of the Group of Seven summit.

″G-7 Calls for an End to Isle Dispute,″ read a headline Wednesday in the English-language Japan Times.

″Territory Is Foundation of Japan-Russia Normalization,″ the lead headline trumpeted in the economic newspaper Nihon Keizai.

The tenor of the news accounts underlined a criticism often leveled at Japan - that it has worked so hard to get back the islands it has lost touch with the larger goal of salvaging the former Soviet Union’s economy.

Tokyo says it will withhold large-scale aid until Moscow yields on the territory.

The hard-won clause in the summit declaration said a Russian foreign policy ″based on law and justice ... represents a basis for full normalization of the Russian-Japanese relationship through resolving the territorial issue.″

The language fell short of fully endorsing Japan’s claim but was still a coup for Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa’s diplomacy.

The blitz of favorable publicity couldn’t have come at a better time for Miyazawa, whose party faces July 26 parliamentary elections.

One obstacle for Tokyo was the view - especially in France and Germany -that the territorial issue is one between Japan and Russia and should not be used to block progress on Russian aid.

A bigger obstacle is Japan’s failure so far to persuade the world that a few bleak islands inhabited by about 25,000 hardy Russians are worth making a fuss over.

Anchorwoman Etsuko Komiya, in Munich for the popular evening ″News Station″ program, admitted to viewers that her questions to other journalists on the issue were mostly greeted with blank stares.

Italy’s Premier Giuliano Amato, when asked about conditions for Western aid to Russia, quipped: ″We aren’t asking for the islands back.″