Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will visit Japan in mid-April, apparently to lay the groundwork for a planned trip by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Russia to seek a resolution to the territorial dispute.

“During his visit, we will talk about the Japan-Russia issues comprehensively, including the peace treaty and the territorial dispute (over the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido), which could lead to a summit” between Abe and President Vladimir Putin, Kishida said.

Japan asked to set up the Lavrov visit when Kishida went to Russia in September.

In a telephone conversation Jan. 22, Abe agreed with Putin to arrange an unofficial visit to the southern Russian city of Sochi, possibly in the spring, prior to a proposed trip to Japan by Putin, according to Japanese officials.

The Lavrov visit was announced after senior Japanese and Russian diplomats met for five hours Monday in Tokyo. Chikahito Harada, Japan’s special representative for Japan-Russian relations, said he and his counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, discussed Japan-Russia related matters, including Abe’s visit to Russia. Yet Harada said no dates were set for the Abe trip or a meeting to discuss the potential peace treaty.

The dispute over the islands, called the Northern Territories by Japan and the South Kuril Islands by Russia, has prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty. Since Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai group of the islets were seized by the Soviet Union following Japan’s surrender in World War II in August 1945, numerous talks have been held to discuss the dispute, but with no positive results.

Abe is keen on making progress in Japan-Russia relations. The prime minister had meetings with Putin twice last year and Kishida also made the trip to Russia last September.

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