In its latest summit with Russia, Japan tried to show the world that Tokyo and Moscow are forging closer ties.

The meetings were overshadowed, however, by the nuclear crisis brewing in North Korea.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Russian President Vladimir Putin found it difficult to concentrate on bilateral issues in their Kremlin summit Friday in light of Pyongyang’s recent statements on its nuclear policy.

Also contributing to the disappointment was the dearth of concrete measures and timelines for agreements, mainly due to hasty preparations.

“We agreed to urge North Korea to scrap its nuclear (weapons) development (program),” Koizumi told a joint news conference with Putin after the summit.

Koizumi also said they agreed to demand Pyongyang reverse its recent decision to withdraw from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.

As his approval ratings have fallen, Koizumi needed to make clear progress in Tokyo’s decades-old territorial dispute with Moscow, Japan’s chief interest in bilateral ties. The row over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan has prevented the two countries from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.

But an increasingly unstable security situation on the Korean Peninsula did not allow Koizumi and Putin to spend long discussing the islands and a peace pact.

Pyongyang last month reactivated nuclear facilities, ousting U.N. officials monitoring them, and announced Friday it is ditching the NPT, developments that made Koizumi and Putin focus on these urgent matters.

In past bilateral negotiations, Japan sought Russian concessions in the land dispute, while Moscow asked for economic aid from Tokyo for development projects especially in the Russian Far East.

Now that Russia has become a full member of the Group of Eight industrialized nations, Japan is more amenable to meeting its request for economic help, believing Moscow will in turn be flexible regarding the islands, a Tokyo official said earlier.

But there is little progress evident in the set of agreements released by Koizumi and Putin after the talks.

“What’s the fresh part in this?” a Russian reporter asked Japanese and Russian leaders at a news conference.

“The big freshness is its comprehensiveness,” Putin said. The accords were released as an “action plan” aimed at boosting Tokyo-Moscow ties in wide-ranging fields including security and culture.

A Japanese diplomat told reporters separately the leaders made “historic” progress as they declared their determination to settle the dispute over Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan and the Habomai isles, seized from Japan by Soviet troops at the end of the war.

However, some reporters recalled that the two countries announced in 1997 they would do their best to settle the dispute and sign a peace treaty by 2000 — but that didn’t happen.

The action plan only marked the resumption of full political dialogue between Tokyo and Moscow after it was interrupted by the downfall last year of Japanese lawmaker Muneo Suzuki.

Suzuki had considerable influence on Tokyo’s policy toward Russia.

Mired in a money scandal, Suzuki was forced to leave Koizumi’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party in March. He was indicted in July on bribery charges.

The official admitted the action plan was compiled somewhat hastily to get Tokyo-Moscow talks back on track after the Suzuki debacle.

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