Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has told a Russian official who is close to President Vladimir Putin that the United States is aware of preparations for a presidential visit to Tokyo later this year, sources said Wednesday.
Abe told Russian State Duma chairman Sergey Naryshkin in talks on May 21 that he had informed U.S. President Barack Obama of the plan when they met in Washington in April. Abe said he had underscored to Obama the importance of dialogue between Tokyo and Moscow and expressed a willingness to make Putin’s visit happen, the sources said.
Abe has been seeking ways to initiate dialogue with Putin to break the impasse in a long-standing dispute over the ownership of four islands off the coast of Hokkaido.
The difficult position Japan is in is underscored by the fact that its key ally, the U.S., is reluctant to support Putin’s visit to Tokyo and the Group of Seven industrialized countries have imposed economic sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.
Ahead of a two-day Group of Seven summit from Sunday in southern Germany, Abe is scheduled to visit Ukraine for talks with President Petro Poroshenko and express solidarity in seeking a peaceful settlement of the crisis.
Meanwhile, Naryshkin appeared to support Abe’s message, saying bilateral relations are important, the sources said.
Naryshkin was in Japan to attend a cultural event. He criticized Tokyo’s imposition of sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine when he met with a senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker.
Russia apparently believed at the time that Japan was under such pressure from Washington that it was unable to make preparations for Putin’s visit this year, according to the sources.
Abe and Putin agreed to make the visit happen during a summit in Beijing last November.
The latest revelation could upset the United States, political observers said, as Washington is concerned about Tokyo and Moscow forging closer ties when it is seeking to isolate Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
Neither Tokyo nor Washington mentioned the exchange about Putin’s visit during the summit in Washington on April 28. Obama was believed to have asked Abe to refrain from making a hasty decision and to handle the issue carefully.