Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze indicated to Japanese officials today that his government is not willing to discuss the return of a group of islands that Soviet troops seized from Japan in 1945, according to an informed source.
Japan regards Soviet possession of the islands as the main impediment to improved relations with Moscow. Japanese officials had hoped that Shevardnadze, the first Soviet foreign minister to visit their country in a decade, would show some new flexibility on the question.
His statements came this afternoon during his third meeting with Japanese Foreign Minister Shintaro Abe, the source said. At the close of the session, the two men agreed they should issue a joint communique before Shevardnadze departs Sunday. Discussions on the communique are to be conducted Friday.
Japanese negotiators were still holding out some small hope for a shift from the Soviet side, the source said, because Shevardnadze is well aware of Japan's position that it will not be party to a communique unless there is some reference, direct or indirect, to a need to settle the issue of the islands, which the Soviets claim as part of the Kurile chain.
Shevardnadze's visit to Japan, a close military ally of the United States, is seen as part of a general warming in Moscow toward U.S. allies. Japan and the Soviet Union fought each other briefly at the end of World War II, never have signed a peace treaty, and have remained on often hostile terms.
In today's discussions, Shevardnadze explained a new disarmament proposal unveiled yesterday by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, according to a Japanese Foreign Ministry official. Abe promised to give it close consideration but noted that Japan had some difficulties with it.
Discussions today also touched on deadlocked fishing negotiations, North and South Korea and trade issues.