• Kyodo

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Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov have agreed to step up preparations for a visit to Japan by President Vladimir Putin in December, with Kishida eyeing a visit to Russia possibly in late October.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Lavrov in New York, Kishida said Wednesday that as part of preparations, he will visit Russia ahead of Putin’s trip and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov will visit Japan in November to attend a meeting of the intergovernmental committee on trade and economic issues.

Kishida did not say when he will visit Russia for talks with Lavrov, citing Diet schedules. But diplomatic sources said Kishida is likely to go in late October, at the earliest.

Kishida said he told Lavrov that it is important for Tokyo and Moscow to make progress on the decades-old territorial dispute off Hokkaido that has prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty to end World War II.

The two ministers also affirmed plans to coordinate at the United Nations on adopting a new Security Council sanctions resolution on North Korea for its fifth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 9.

Lavrov was quoted by Kishida as saying that Russia will coordinate with Japan and other countries toward adopting “a resolution with new sanctions measures” on the North.

At the trade committee meeting in November, Japan and Russia will advance preparations in the economic field for the December summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Abe’s base.

Abe has presented an eight-point economic cooperation plan that focuses on developing the Russian Far East, a resource-rich region Putin is poised to tap into. The plan is viewed as leverage for advancing the stalled negotiations over four Russian-held, Japan-claimed islands off Hokkaido called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.

Before the Japan trip, Putin and Abe plan to hold talks on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit to be held in November in Peru.

With a rising tempo in diplomacy between Tokyo and Moscow, the United States appears to be growing concerned that closer ties with Japan may undermine international sanctions imposed on Russia for its unilateral annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine in 2014.

As part of efforts to dispel such concern, Abe held talks earlier Wednesday with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and agreed the two allies will stay in close communication regarding Japan’s dialogue with Russia.

Abe reassured Biden that while he will promote talks with Putin on the territorial issue, Tokyo will maintain sanctions on Moscow in coordination with other members of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations, according to a senior Japanese official.

The G-7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Abe told Biden that he wants to resolve the dispute with Russia, the biggest outstanding bilateral issue since World War II, “seriously,” and that this issue “can only be settled through talks between the two leaders,” the official said.

He also said it is vital that the Minsk agreement, a cease-fire struck in February last year, be fully implemented so as to address conflict in Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.

Biden was quoted by the official as saying that he is convinced that Abe will handle the issue prudently.

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