• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that signing a Japan-Russia peace treaty, delayed for decades by the row over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, will require a “relationship of trust” between himself and President Vladimir Putin.

Abe’s remarks at a news conference in Buenos Aires on Monday came just a day after Putin had poured cold water on Japanese hopes of quickly concluding a World War II peace treaty.

Putin said such an agreement is “not an easy path,” reiterating that the contentious islands, seized from Japan by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II in 1945, fall under Russian sovereignty.

“There has been no change to our existing position on the Northern Territories,” Abe said. “The peace treaty issue cannot be solved with just one leaders’ summit, as shown by the fact it has gone unresolved for 70 years.”

The three islands and islet group stretching northeast of Hokkaido are together called the Northern Territories by Japan and the Southern Kurils by Russia.

The leaders, who discussed issues related to the islands during a meeting Saturday, are scheduled to meet in Japan on Dec. 15 for talks that Abe has described as a golden opportunity to make real progress on the issue.

Abe and Putin had agreed at a May summit to accelerate peace treaty negotiations, with Abe offering Putin an eight-point plan for bilateral economic cooperation.

While Moscow has proposed joint economic projects on the islands, Japan has dismissed such a move, noting that such a deal would effectively mean acknowledging Russian sovereignty over them.

“We believe that it’s of the utmost importance that the future development (of the islands issue) be moved forward in a way that is win-win,” Abe said.

“Joint economic projects are not something we would dismiss, but I must stress that (Japan’s possible participation) would be based on the premise that there is no damage to our legal position,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Tokyo on Tuesday.

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