The Abe administration is sending Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida to Moscow from Sept. 20 to set the stage for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Japan within the year, government sources said Friday.
The decision comes despite repeated visits by top Russian officials to islands at the heart of a long-standing dispute between the two nations. Japan decided not to postpone Kishida’s trip until October or later for fear that doing so could jeopardize Putin’s visit, slated for later this year, the sources said.
Even as Russia defied Japan’s repeated protests to not allow Russian Cabinet members to visit some of the Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands, the government has begun arrangements to schedule Kishida’s trip from Sept. 20 to 23, according to the sources.
At the same time, the sources said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is considering holding talks with Putin on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.
The move is aimed at laying the groundwork for a visit by Putin to Japan this year despite the ongoing issue over the islands, known as the Northern Territories, off Hokkaido.
Japan has conveyed Abe’s intention to hold a summit with Putin through diplomatic channels, they said. If realized, it would be the first meeting between the two leaders since last November when they met during a regional summit in Beijing.
In a show of his will to meet Putin to help resolve the long-standing territorial dispute, Abe was quoted as saying by one of the sources, “We will never break the impasse without building up dialogue between the leaders.”
According to the sources, Abe plans to attend U.N.-related and other events during a stay in New York from Sept. 27 to 30.
Japan hopes to arrange an Abe-Putin meeting for 30 minutes to an hour. But it is still uncertain whether the two sides will set up the meeting, given the tight schedules of the leaders while in New York.
In the envisaged meeting, Abe is expected to tell Putin that he will make best efforts to ensure Putin’s trip to Japan is a success.
Tokyo is poised to promote stalled negotiations with Moscow for the return of the islets during Putin’s visit.
In New York, Abe is also likely to seek cooperation to prevent high-profile Russian officials from repeating behavior that would upset Japanese with regard to the islands.
In defiance of Japanese protests, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Etorofu Island on Aug. 22. Several other Russian Cabinet members also traveled to Etorofu and Kunashiri islands.
Etorofu, Kunashiri and two smaller islets — Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets -—were seized by the Soviets following Japan’s surrender in World War II in August 1945, and the ensuing territorial dispute has prevented the two countries from ever concluding a postwar peace treaty.t