Japan and Russia agreed Monday to closely cooperate on efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear provocations, holding their first ministerial talks on foreign policy and security since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.
In the so-called two-plus-two dialogue, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Defense Minister Tomomi Inada met with Russian counterparts Sergey Lavrov and Sergei Shoigu.
The meeting marks an improvement in bilateral ties that have been long complicated by a territorial dispute over four Russian-controlled islets off Hokkaido.
The talks precede Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Russia next month and, according to Kishida, are expected to “speed up” progress on the wartime row, which has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty to officially end World War II.
On North Korea, “we had a very candid talk on the missile launches by the North and we agreed to call on the country to refrain from further provocations and comply with the U.N. Security Council resolution,” Kishida said.
The two sides also confirmed that Abe will visit Russia in late April, he said.
The resumption of the dialogue was proposed by Russia during the Abe-Putin summit in December.
This underscores Moscow’s desire to improve ties with Tokyo as a way to counterbalance its increasing slide into pariah status in the global community over its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The seizure resulted in Russia being voted out of what was then the Group of Eight nations and getting slapped with a raft of economic sanctions, that, coupled with a recent plunge in oil prices, has marred its economy.
The two-plus-two meeting made Japan the first country to engage Russia in talks since Russia commandeered the Crimean Peninsula.
“I believe this two-plus-two format will be instrumental in helping a Russia-Japan relationship take on a new nature and making it more friendly,” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said in a joint conference after the dialogue.
Japan, for its part, remains “firmly of the opinion that it values the order of law and tolerates no attempt by Moscow to change the status quo by force,” a Foreign Ministry official, who declined to be identified per ministry policy, said in a briefing to the media on Friday.
“But we nonetheless regard such dialogue as an important opportunity to build a mutual understanding with Russia — our neighbor — of an increasingly serious regional landscape,” the official said, referring to the repeated nuclear provocations by North Korea.
Kishida, too, expressed confidence that a high-level talk of this ilk will help foster rapport between the two nations and go a long way toward the conclusion of a peace treaty.
“High-level political conversations between us were never so active as they have been in recent years,” he said.