Abe drops plan for Japan visit by Putin, eyes summit during APEC meet


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has given up on hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Japan this fall, but he hopes to hold talks with him during the next Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing in November, government sources said.

Instead, Abe may try to arrange for Putin to visit Japan next spring or later.

The United States has asked Japan to postpone the Putin visit, and Tokyo sees it as important to keep in step with European countries that, together with Japan and the United States, have slapped sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis, the sources said Monday.

Putin’s visit would depend on the state of relations between Russia and the United States, which have been bitterly at odds over Ukraine, the sources said.

Tokyo had hoped that Putin’s visit would advance bilateral negotiations over the ownership of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, the long-running dispute that has kept the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.

“Our goal has shifted from Mr. Putin’s visit to Japan to holding a summit on the occasion of the APEC forum,” one of the sources said.

During telephone talks on Sunday, Abe proposed to Putin holding talks on the sidelines of the APEC gathering, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday, a move apparently meant to maintain the dialogue with Moscow.

Putin expressed his willingness for a meeting with Abe but did not elaborate on its timing, according to one government source.

“The prime minister told President Putin that it is important to hold dialogue between Japan and Russia on the occasion of international conferences, including the APEC summit,” Suga said at a news conference. “Both leaders agreed that the continuation of bilateral dialogue is important.”

Japan is expected to announce additional sanctions against Russia soon in a bid to show that the country is in step with the United States and Europe over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, government sources have said.

Abe has been put in the difficult position of working together with other Group of Seven nations while trying to cultivate a personal relationship of trust with Putin so the long-standing territorial dispute can be resolved.

Still, a source familiar with Japan-Russia relations said Moscow has not presented to Tokyo any proposals that could break the deadlock over the territorial dispute, reinforcing the view in the Abe camp that the time is not yet ripe for Putin’s visit.

Since returning to power in December 2012, Abe has met with Putin five times. Abe has vowed to resolve the dispute over the four islands — called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia — while he is prime minister.

One of the sources with knowledge of Japan-Russia relations said Russia has not given a clear answer to Tokyo’s proposal that Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week.