• Kyodo

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet for talks Monday on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session in New York, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.

The talks would be seen as a breakthrough of sorts after months of chill in bilateral ties reflecting tension over disputed islands off Hokkaido and Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

During a five-day visit to New York from Saturday, Abe is scheduled to address the assembly’s 70th session on Tuesday and a U.N. summit on Sunday where member states will adopt an agenda for sustainable development from 2015 and onward, Suga said.

Government officials added that Abe will hold separate talks with the leaders of Kenya, Qatar, Iran, Ukraine and Jordan. He is not scheduled to hold talks with U.S. President Barack Obama, but is expected to meet with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

Abe also plans to meet with his counterparts from Brazil, Germany and India on Saturday to push for reform of the U.N. Security Council, especially as this year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the world body, the officials said.

Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye are also set to attend the U.N. gatherings. It is not immediately known whether Abe will hold meetings or informal talks with them.

After wrapping up his stay in New York on Wednesday, Abe will visit Jamaica through Thursday before returning home Friday, according to the officials.

A key focus at the Japan-Russia summit in New York will likely be a visit by Putin to Japan, which Abe hopes to realize by the end of this year. Tokyo is eager to advance talks on a long-standing territorial dispute, while Moscow appears to be steadfast in its position.

Earlier this week, Abe sent top diplomat Fumio Kishida to Moscow for talks with Kishida’s Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, realizing the first bilateral foreign ministerial talks since February last year.

Kishida and Lavrov agreed on Monday to restart high-level negotiations in October on a bilateral peace treaty, but the two remain far apart on territorial matters.

Japan hopes to maintain momentum for dialogue with Russia, although bilateral relations took a further hit when Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in August visited one of the disputed islands claimed by Japan. Tokyo submitted a protest over the matter.

In Tokyo on Thursday, Suga said, “We hope to move on with preparations toward the (president’s) visit at an appropriate time this year.”

Kishida told Kyodo News “it is important to achieve substantial results” in the dispute over the four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed isles off Hokkaido when Putin visits Japan.

“We’ve agreed (with Russia) that it is important to find a mutually acceptable solution. We will keep on making efforts for Mr. Putin’s visit to Japan by continuing discussions,” Kishida added.

In a move possibly related to Putin’s trip to Japan, Shotaro Yachi, a senior national security adviser to Abe, met with Nikolai Patrushev, a close aide to Putin and secretary of the Security Council of Russia, in Tokyo on Thursday.

Diplomatic ties between the two countries have been affected by the crisis in Ukraine, with Japan having joined the United States and European nations in imposing economic sanctions on Russia following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in March last year.

The United States has called on Tokyo to take a cautious approach on Putin’s visit.

In Washington on Tuesday, U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said, “We’ve been very clear in saying that we don’t believe that it’s time for business as usual with Russia given their behavior in eastern Ukraine,” where fighting has persisted between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian rebels despite a cease-fire agreement struck in February in Minsk.

Kishida told Kyodo News that managing ties with Russia was an “issue of great significance” to Japan, with the countries yet to conclude a post-World War II peace treaty due to the territorial row.

“We are in a different position to the United States,” Kishida said.

At issue are four islands off Hokkaido — Etorofu, Kunashiri and Shikotan as well as the Habomai group of islets — that were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in World War II on Aug. 15, 1945. They are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

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