• Kyodo


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is exploring the possibility of visiting Russia in April or May to discuss a territorial dispute dating back to the end of World War II with Russian President Vladimir Putin, government sources said Sunday.

Abe is sending former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori to Russia in February as his special envoy. After that trip, Abe hopes to finalize arrangements for his first official trip to Russia since becoming prime minster again late last month, the sources said.

Mori, who has close ties with Putin, will bring a letter from Abe when he travels to Russia on a trip aimed at setting the stage for a summit between the leaders, government officials said.

The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan as well as the Habomai islet group off Hokkaido were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. The dispute has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a peace treaty.

The Russian-held islands in the dispute are known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

The previous government, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, had sought to meet with Putin this month but was trounced in the Dec. 16 general election and became an opposition party.

In January and February, Abe, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, is planning to visit the United States and South Korea.

“It would be better to have a certain period of time away from major political events in order to discuss the territorial issue in a calm environment,” explaining why Abe is aiming for a spring meeting with Putin, one of the sources said.

In Japan, the upcoming 150-day Diet session will end in June before the House of Councilors election this summer, a pivotal race in which Abe’s LDP and its ruling coalition partner, New Komeito, will attempt to secure a majority that would give them command over both chambers of the Diet.

On Dec. 28, during a telephone conversation with Putin, Abe agreed to reactivate working-level consultations on signing a peace treaty and to make arrangements to visit Russia this year.

When he was prime minister between 2006 and 2007, Abe spoke with Putin on several occasions, including the Group of Eight summit of the major industrialized nations.

Abe’s predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, agreed with Putin on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit in Vladivostok in September to plan a visit to Russia in December.

Russia later canceled Noda’s visit due to scheduling difficulties.