Japan has disregarded U.S. opposition to a planned bilateral summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tokyo later this week, diplomatic sources said.
Last month Washington repeatedly conveyed its objection to the Abe-Putin meeting in the capital out of concern that it might relieve pressure on Moscow by the Group of Seven economies, but on Thursday Japan formally announced the summit for Friday, as well as another meeting in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Thursday.
The administration of President Barack Obama has been critical of Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and for backing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
But Abe wants to maintain good relations with Russia in hopes of achieving a breakthrough in the decades-old territorial dispute between the two nations and concluding a postwar peace treaty.
The Japanese government’s decision to go ahead with staging a summit with Putin in Tokyo highlights a rift between Tokyo and Washington on the issue.
According to the sources, the Obama administration conveyed its opposition to Japan over the planned Abe-Putin meeting more than once through diplomatic channels in November.
The U.S. government voiced concern that staging such a meeting in Tokyo could send the wrong message that the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations is not totally united in pressuring Moscow, the sources said.
The Japanese government is believed to have told Washington that the Russian leader’s visit should not be seen as according Putin special favors as he will not be granted a meeting with Emperor Akihito.
A Japanese government source said, “Although Japan needs to play a role as a G-7 member, it is also natural for us to pursue national interests and holding a summit meeting in Tokyo causes no problem.”
Moscow sought a summit with Abe in Tokyo during Putin’s visit to the country. Japanese government officials initially planned to focus on a meeting in Yamaguchi Prefecture, home to Abe’s constituency, where the two leaders are to spend a substantial amount of time, but eventually agreed to Russia’s proposal to extend the summit to the capital, the sources added.
The G-7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.