Prime Minister Taro Aso and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin agreed Tuesday to strengthen bilateral economic ties, including promoting peaceful use of nuclear energy, but made no significant progress on the territorial dispute that dates back to 1945.

While expressing the will to resolve the island row, Putin did not discuss any specific steps during a joint news conference at the prime minister’s office.

“Russia is ready to initiate a dialogue with Japan,” Putin said, but he refrained from commenting on the possibility of a partial return of the disputed islands.

Japan officially demands that all of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido be returned, but the notion of a partial return has repeatedly been floated here as a means of breaking the stalemate.

“President Dmitry Medvedev will be holding an independent meeting at the Group of Eight summit in Italy to discuss possible measures” over territorial issues, Putin said.

Aso added that “removing the thorn” will make it possible for Japan and Russia to become true partners, but he mentioned no no new proposals to resolve the issue.

The nuclear agreement, in the works since 2007, will pave the way for joint research and reactor contracts, and expand the import of atomic fuel from Russia.

“We can expect mutual benefits,” Aso told the news conference, adding the deal holds a strategic relevance for Russo-Japanese relations.

Tokyo is ready to work as a partner with Moscow on developing the Asia-Pacific region, Aso said, expressing the will to collaborate in such areas as energy conservation and information technology.

“This is an agreement of mutual benefit,” a Foreign Ministry official said of the nuclear pact under which Japan will provide its knowhow and technology on building nuclear plants in exchange for Russia’s rich uranium resources and enrichment capabilities.

The agreement, which Japan has already signed with six other countries, including the United States and China, took a while to reach because Japan insisted on “100 percent transparency” on how its nuclear technology was going to be applied in Russia.

The ministry official said Moscow finally agreed to security requirement standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including strict prevention of nuclear technology proliferation.

Putin, on his first visit to Japan since being elected prime minister, also agreed on several intergovernmental pacts, including a mutual legal assistance treaty, a customs mutual assistance agreement and collaboration to prevent the export of illegal fisheries catches.

The mutual legal assistance treaty will strengthen collaboration between Japanese and Russian police agencies amid rising cross-border crimes, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Legal authorities will directly contact each other for cooperation and information under the treaty, improving the efficiency and accuracy of investigations.

Japan has signed similar treaties with the U.S., China and South Korea.

Putin arrived Monday along with a delegation of business personnel. He attended a working breakfast and business forums Tuesday with Russian and Japanese private-sector representatives.

He also met with former Prime Ministers Junichiro Koizumi and Yoshiro Mori.

Putin had declared before his arrival that bilateral ties must develop in all dimensions for the island issue to be resolved.

The two countries have yet to sign a peace treaty to end World War II due to the dispute over the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets, which Soviet forces seized in the closing days of World War II.

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