Abe, Putin agree to put peace treaty bid on fast track

Kyodo

Stepping up efforts to strengthen his ties with world leaders, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to accelerate work toward concluding a formal postwar peace treaty, a government official said.

During a 20-minute phone conversation Friday, Abe and Putin also decided to begin making arrangements for the prime minister to visit Russia in the new year, according to the official. Abe’s predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, had to cancel a trip to Moscow scheduled for this month following the Lower House’s dissolution in November for a snap election Dec. 16.

Abe also spoke over the phone Friday with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, officials said.

During his discussion with Putin, Abe, who took the helm of government for the second time Wednesday, told Russia’s leader that Tokyo and Moscow must work together to find a “mutually acceptable” solution to the long-standing territorial dispute over four islands off northern Hokkaido, the government official said.

After recently voicing his readiness to hold “constructive” talks on the issue, Putin on Friday proposed to Abe that the two leaders urge their foreign ministries to make greater efforts to draw up the treaty, the official added.

Tokyo has sought the return of three islands — Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan — and the Habomai islet group ever since they were seized by Soviet troops after Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. The sovereignty row has prevented the two countries from agreeing a postwar peace accord.

Abe and all six leaders he spoke with Friday meanwhile exchanged views on North Korea’s rocket launch earlier this month, and also discussed the abduction of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang in the 1970s and ’80s, according to the officials.

Abe and Singh agreed that Tokyo and New Delhi will strive to strengthen bilateral security and economic cooperation, one of the officials said.

Singh was quoted by the official as telling Abe that he would like to visit Japan sometime “soon.” India’s leader was slated to visit Tokyo last month but decided to postpone the trip because of the Nov. 16 Lower House dissolution that set this month’s general election in motion.

In his conversations with Cameron and Gillard, Abe expressed appreciation for Britain’s support in launching long-stalled negotiations on an economic partnership pact between Japan and the European Union, while agreeing to closely cooperate with Australia’s leader toward an early conclusion of negotiations on a bilateral free-trade accord, the officials said.

Abe also confirmed with both Yudhoyono and Dung that Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will bolster their relationship and cooperation next year, which will mark the 40th anniversary of the establishment of ties between Tokyo and the regional bloc, they added.

Dung invited Abe to visit Vietnam, one of the officials said, adding the prime minister agreed to do so when his schedule permits.