Putin agrees to visit Japan in early 2005

Compiled From Kyodo, Staff Reports

SEA ISLAND, Ga. — Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi here Wednesday that he would visit Japan in early 2005, a Japanese official said.

During a meeting held on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit, the two leaders also reaffirmed that the two countries must resolve a decades-old territorial dispute and accelerate talks on a bilateral peace treaty, the official said.

Koizumi welcomed Putin’s plan to visit Japan at the beginning of 2005, when the two countries commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the bilateral treaty of friendship, the official said.

Japan and Russia will set a specific date for Putin’s visit to Japan through diplomatic channels, he said. Putin is expected to visit Japan in February because the treaty was signed in that month in 1855.

Wednesday’s meeting between Koizumi and Putin was their first since Putin was re-elected Russian president in March.

Koizumi told Putin it is important that Japan and Russia build relations of mutual trust and establish a strategic partnership by resolving the dispute over four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido claimed by Japan, and by concluding a World War II peace treaty to completely normalize bilateral relations, the official said.

Koizumi said the two leaders should strive to make “concrete and substantive” progress on peace treaty talks ahead of Putin’s visit to Japan in 2005, the official said.

Putin said Japanese-Russian relations are strategically important for Russia, the official said.

Putin said that the territorial dispute has always been an important bilateral issue and that he has no intention of avoiding discussions on the topic.

The Soviet Union has held the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan, as well as the Habomai islet group, since the end of World War II. The territorial row has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda welcomed the agreement on Putin’s visit, saying it will be “a big chance” to settle the territorial row and conclude a peace treaty with Russia.

Foreign Ministry officials expect that Putin, who now has stronger domestic clout following his re-election to a second term, will be in a position to offer compromises on the territorial issue, which in turn could lead to economic cooperation from Japan.

During the talks, Koizumi also urged Putin to take the initiative so that the Russian parliament can quickly ratify the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming.

Putin was quoted as saying that, while ratification of the pact is a difficult issue, the Russian government is discussing it with the parliament.