Report: INF withdrawal could impact Japan's Kuril Islands talks

Feb. 12 (UPI) — The mutual withdrawal of the United States and Russia from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty could affect Japanese plans to reclaim the disputed Kuril Islands, according to a Japanese press report.

The Nikkei reported Tuesday Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe‘s efforts to reach an accord on the handover of the islands could become more difficult, because of tensions between Russia and the United States.

Washington recently approved Japan’s purchase of two land-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense systems, or Aegis Ashore. Russia has responded with expressions of concern about the deployment of Aegis Ashore in Japan during “2+2” ministerial-level talks, according to the Nikkei.

The INF Treaty bans the production or testing of ground-launched cruise missiles with a range of 300 to 3,400 miles. The treaty has kept nuclear missiles out of Europe for three decades, but a decision to cancel the treaty could also affect Japan.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had said last Tuesday in Tajikistan the issue of the “four Kuril Islands and the INF are clearly related.” Moscow has suggested Japanese plans to deploy Aegis Ashore are a violation of the INF treaty and a hindrance to Russia-Japan ties.

In 2018, Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin had agreed to accelerate talks on the Kuril Islands based on a 1956 joint declaration; the Soviet Union had at the time agreed to return two of the disputed islands after the signing of a peace treaty.

Abe has enjoyed a moderate increase in his approval ratings for his policies, despite a recent scandal involving the manipulation of wage growth data.

NHK reported Tuesday a survey of more than 1,200 Japanese respondents showed the prime minister’s approval rating rose to 44 percent.

Abe has yet to meet with North Korea‘s Kim Jong Un, but his inability to secure a summit has also not affected his standing with the Japanese public; the survey showed 61 percent of Japanese said they expect “no progress” on denuclearization during the second summit between President Donald Trump and Kim.

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