Photo/IllutrationJapanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, center, heads for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, left, in Munich on Feb. 16. (Pool)

Foreign Minister Taro Kono is hoping to visit Russia in May to salvage talks on a peace treaty to formally end hostilities emanating from World War II, sources said.

If the visit goes ahead, Kono will meet with Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, for the third time since February in hopes of reaching a breakthrough that could pave the way for the return of territory seized by Soviet forces in the waning days of the war.

The foreign and defense ministers of the two countries are scheduled to hold talks in Tokyo in late May under what is known as the two-plus-two meeting. Lavrov is also due to meet with Kono for a separate meeting.

However, the Japanese government decided that additional talks between Kono and Lavrov would help Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin to announce tangible results from a scheduled summit in Japan in June.

Kono is tentatively set to visit Russia from May 11 to 12, following working-level negotiations in Tokyo on April 22 between Takeo Mori, a senior deputy foreign minister, and Igor Morgulov, his opposite number in Russia.

Abe and Putin agreed when they met last November to accelerate talks geared toward a peace treaty.

The following month, Abe named Kono to oversee the peace treaty negotiations and put Mori in charge of working-level talks.

Although Abe has switched from seeking the return of two, not all four disputed islands off Hokkaido, which Japan calls the Northern Territories, as a first step, Russia has adopted a tougher line on the issue.

According to Japanese diplomats, Morgulov has repeatedly told Mori that Japan must acknowledge the four islands became legitimate Russian territory as a result of World War II.

Japan rejected the Russian demand, adhering to its longstanding position that Russia unlawfully occupies the Northern Territories as they are an “inherent part” of the Japanese archipelago.

The yawning gap in perceptions between the two countries on the issue created a deadlock.

Abe initially drew up a scenario in which Japan and Russia will reach agreement in principle on the peace treaty during talks with Putin to be held on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka in June.

But with Russia standing firm, many officials within the Abe administration are resigned to the notion that a broader agreement with Russia will be unlikely during the next Abe-Putin meeting.

Still, the government decided that “as many contacts as possible” with Russia represents the best possible policy approach at the moment, which led to the decision to dispatch Kono to Moscow.

The administration also wants to demonstrate progress on the issue ahead of Upper House elections in July.