• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe plans to visit Russia around April 27 to 28 for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an effort to make a breakthrough in the nations’ decades-old territorial dispute, sources said.

Abe plans to travel to either Moscow or St. Petersburg, Putin’s home city, to discuss proposed joint economic activities on the Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido and confirm the two sides’ commitment to concluding a peace treaty, the sources said on Wednesday.

In December, the leaders expressed their “sincere determination” to resolve the post-World War II peace treaty issue, including settling the territorial dispute, and to start talks on the joint activities, affirming that doing so could be “an important step” toward signing of a peace treaty.

They remained apart, however, on their stances over sovereignty of the disputed Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan islands and the Habomai islet group.

The sources said Abe and Putin will also likely discuss how to facilitate visits by former Japanese residents to the islands — another issue they agreed on at their summit in Japan in December.

On Thursday, Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama and Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov will meet in Tokyo for a strategic dialogue to lay the groundwork for the Abe-Putin talks, Japanese officials said.

Abe’s visit to St. Petersburg has been floated after Putin visited Abe’s home prefecture of Yamaguchi during his trip to Japan in December. Reciprocal visits to their home areas would deepen the closeness of the leaders, a Japanese Foreign Ministry source said.

Russia, meanwhile, appears eager to invite Abe to Moscow as hosting a Group of Seven leader in the capital would help ward off the image that the country is globally isolated following its ousting from the Group of Eight after it annexed Crimea in Ukraine in March 2014, political observers said.

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