• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Friday to advance talks on carrying out joint economic activities on the Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido.

Abe and Putin agreed to hold a vice foreign ministerial meeting in late August in Moscow as part of an effort to craft specific projects for such activities, a senior Japanese official told reporters after the two leaders spoke on the fringes of the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany.

Japan hopes the joint activities, once started, will pave the way for addressing a decades-long territorial dispute with Russia that has prevented the two from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II.

The vice ministerial meeting will precede talks planned between Abe and Putin in September on the sidelines of an economic forum in Vladivostok, the official said.

The leaders also agreed to cooperate in arranging special grave visits by former residents of the islands by chartered plane in September. The visits were originally scheduled for June, but were called off at the last moment on two days due to bad weather.

At the meeting, part of which was open to the media, Abe said, “We would like to further develop a relationship of trust between the two countries by promoting joint economic activities, as well as the grave visits and visits to (former residents’) hometowns in a freer way.”

Putin said he is glad the two sides “are having such active dialogue,” which he said he hopes “will make it possible for us to resolve decades-old problems,” according to Russia’s Tass news agency.

Since Abe and Putin agreed in December to launch negotiations on joint economic activities on the islands, Japan and Russia have conducted a feasibility study there.

In Friday’s meeting, the leaders affirmed that the study on the islands from June 27 to July 1 was “extremely meaningful,” and that it will accelerate talks on holding economic activities on the islands, according to the senior Japanese official.

The dispute over the islands has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a postwar peace treaty.

Abe, meanwhile, called for Moscow to play a bigger role in helping rein in North Korea. He said there was a need to ramp up international pressure on Pyongyang in response to its aggressive development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, according to the official.

Putin was quoted by the official as saying he fully understands Japan’s concern, and that Moscow has been urging Pyongyang to stop actions that run counter to the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.

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