• Kyodo

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Senior Japanese and Russian officials have held talks on concluding a post-World War II peace treaty as the two countries make final arrangements for a meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin early next month in Russia.

A territorial spat over Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido have kept the two countries from signing the treaty for decades, but Abe hopes to make progress on the issue through talks with Putin at their proposed meeting on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Sept. 2-3.

“We hope to hold the next round of peace treaty talks without leaving an interval,” Chikahito Harada, the Japanese government representative and ambassador in charge of Japan-Russia relations, told reporters Friday after the meeting with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov in Moscow.

Japan and Russia are also planning to realize a visit by Putin to Japan by the end of this year.

In the talks, the officials apparently discussed a “new approach” in tackling the territorial dispute, a term Abe used after agreeing with Putin to resolve the long-standing issue at their meeting in May. At the time, Abe did not explain the specifics of the term.

Regarding the content of the territorial negotiations, Harada said only, “We had positive and frank discussions.”

Japan and Russia remain apart in their views over the isles, with Tokyo maintaining the stance that ownership of them must be resolved before concluding a peace treaty.

For its part, Moscow says territorial and peace treaty issues are not directly connected and that it took the isles legitimately as the result of World War II.

The islands, northeast of Hokkaido, are called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.

Harada said he also requested Morgulov ensure that a Japanese man who was questioned by authorities on Kunashiri Island, one of the disputed islands, can swiftly return to Hokkaido by sea. Morgulov said Russia is doing everything it can do, according to Harada.

The Japanese interpreter had been kept on the island during a visit under a bilateral visa-free exchange program. Media reports said he was carrying undeclared cash when he underwent a baggage check when he was about to leave the island and return to Japan.

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