Abe’s Russia visit eyed as way to jump-start territorial talks


Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that he and his Russian counterpart have agreed on steps that will give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the chance to jump-start stalled talks on a territorial dispute during his planned visit to Moscow.

In their first face-to-face meeting in London on Wednesday, Kishida and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed that Abe’s trip will be vital in building a personal relationship with President Vladimir Putin, mapping out a long-term vision for bilateral relations and reopening negotiations on four isles off Hokkaido controlled by Moscow.

Kishida told reporters afterward that he and Lavrov also discussed details regarding the territorial negotiations but declined to elaborate.

At the outset of the meeting, both ministers noted that their two countries should deepen cooperation in all areas, including the economy and security. The talks, held prior to a two-day meeting of the Group of Eight foreign ministers, were aimed at preparing for a summit between Abe and Putin in late April.

Abe’s trip will make him the first Japanese prime minister in 10 years to make an official visit to Russia.

Kishida, who plans to visit Russia himself at a later date, said no specific schedule for the Abe-Putin summit was discussed during the meeting. He also revealed that he invited Lavrov to visit Japan after Abe’s trip to Moscow.

Concerning North Korea, Kishida and Lavrov agreed that the global community must unite in taking firm action in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile provocations. “We agreed that the international community should work together and send a strong message (on North Korea),” Kishida said.

Although Putin appears to be positive about resolving the long-standing dispute over the four Russian-held islands off northern Hokkaido, a breakthrough is seen as unlikely in the near future because wide differences remain between the two sides.

Tokyo says it is flexible about when, how and on what conditions the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan and the Habomai islet group are returned, provided Moscow acknowledges Japan’s ownership of all four.