MOSCOW - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday to revive talks on an island dispute that has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II.
The leaders “will respectively instruct their foreign ministries to accelerate negotiations to work out a solution acceptable to both countries over the peace treaty issue,” they said in a joint statement released after the meeting at the Kremlin.
Abe and Putin also agreed to enhance bilateral economic ties, with Japan aiming to secure Russian energy resources at cheaper prices at a time when it is struggling to offset the loss of nuclear energy caused by the Fukushima disaster by relying on thermal power plants.
The two leaders acknowledged that the inability to sign a peace treaty over the past 67 years has been “abnormal” and agreed to increase government contact, including reciprocal visits by themselves and their foreign ministers.
They will also set up a framework for their foreign and defense ministers to conduct dialogue on issues including enhanced communication between security officials and cooperation on devising counterterrorism and antipiracy measures. It is the first time Russia has set up such an arrangement with an Asian country.
On the economic front, the leaders agreed to hold talks involving both public and private officials on promoting cooperation in developing Russia’s resource-rich Far East. The countries “will expand energy cooperation in the areas of oil and gas, under mutually beneficial conditions, including the provision of energy at competitive prices,” the statement said.
Abe is the first prime minister to visit Russia in about 10 years. Accompanied by a delegation of more than 100 corporate executives, he arrived Sunday in Moscow on the first leg of a four-nation tour that will also take him to the Middle East.
The territorial row concerns Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan islands and the Habomai islet group, which were seized by Soviet forces off northern Hokkaido at the end of World War II. Japan has demanded they be returned to its jurisdiction since the 1950s, and their failure to resolve the issue has stopped them from signing an accord to formally end wartime hostilities.
Abe, who took office in December, has repeatedly said he wants to build a relationship with Putin founded on “personal trust” to resume dialogue on the disputed islands. But officials of both countries have acknowledged that the Abe-Putin meeting will not result in a breakthrough on the decades-old impasse.
Achieving a higher level of cooperation with Russia would come in stark contrast to Japan’s increasingly acrimonious relations with China and South Korea, which are being strained by bitter territorial disputes in the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. Both Beijing and Seoul are also alarmed by Tokyo’s political shift to the right under Abe.
On North Korea’s strident threats to hold more missile and nuclear tests, Abe requested Russia’s active involvement in defusing tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Although Moscow’s relationship with Pyongyang is not as close as during the Cold War, the past few years have seen a rapprochement between the two.