• Kyodo

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Senior Japanese and Russian diplomats met Thursday in Moscow to lay the groundwork for a planned visit to Tokyo by President Vladimir Putin this year.

Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and his Russian counterpart, Igor Morgulov, discussed the long-running territorial dispute and prospects for a post-World War II peace pact, Japanese officials said.

After Japan’s surrender in World War II, the Soviet Union seized three small islands and a group of small islets off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido. The dispute over their sovereignty has prevented Japan and Russia from concluding a peace treaty.

Sugiyama and Morgulov skipped discussions on a postponed visit to Russia by Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, the officials said. Russia has taken the position that a Kishida visit, which was put off following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in southern Ukraine last March, must precede a Putin visit to Japan.

Sugiyama and Morgulov also discussed the crisis in Ukraine and international terrorist activities, including those involving Islamic State, with Sugiyama conveying Japan’s position that sanctions imposed on Russia by Japan, European countries and the United States should not adversely affect Japan-Russia relations.

The deputy minister-level meeting, initially set for last August, was postponed after Japan imposed additional sanctions following the Crimea annexation. The previous meeting was held in January 2014.

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