MOSCOW - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin were set to meet Saturday night in Moscow to talk about bilateral economic cooperation and security issues.
North Korea is also likely to be high on the agenda days after Washington told Pyongyang it will not hold the first-ever U.S.-North Korean summit scheduled for June 12.
The fate of that summit remains unclear after U.S. President Donald Trump hinted Friday at the possibility it could still be held.
Abe and Putin were expected to discuss how to materialize their countries’ joint economic activities in five areas, which they agreed on last September, on the disputed islands controlled by Moscow.
The two leaders are likely to agree to launch consultations to develop sightseeing tours involving travel agencies of both countries, culture sea urchins and farm strawberries, Japanese government sources said.
Japan hopes the activities would pave the way to settling the decadeslong territorial row over the islands and, ultimately, signing a post-World War II peace treaty, while Russia aims to attract Japanese investments in the underdeveloped Far East region.
In an interview with several media outlets in St. Petersburg on Friday, Putin said such a treaty is possible if bilateral relations deepen through planned joint economic activities on the islands.
Putin reiterated that the only solution to the bilateral territorial row would be through Russia’s return of the two smaller ones — Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — after the conclusion of a peace pact in line with the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration.
“Japan unilaterally rejected the implementation” of the agreement, Putin said.
But Russia will look for a compromise both sides will be able to accept, Putin said.
The president said Russia will work to promote visa-free visits to the disputed isles by former residents by removing all restrictions.
The visa-free program began in 1992 as part of efforts to promote relations between present and former residents of the islands and deepen mutual understanding.
But it is still unclear whether the two will be able to come up with a “special framework” that will not compromise either side’s legal position on the isles’ sovereignty, a sticking point of the plan.
The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, were seized by the former Soviet Union at the end of the war.
As part of humanitarian measures, Abe and Putin will also likely agree to allow former Japanese residents of the islands to visit their ancestral graves by aircraft again this year following the first such occasion last year, the sources said.
Apart from the five areas, Abe and Putin will likely confirm how far their eight-point economic cooperation package, which Abe proposed two years ago, has advanced, the sources said.
The Abe-Putin summit will be the first since the latter won a landslide victory in the presidential election in March and the 21st in total.
In the field of security, the two leaders may agree to hold the next round of the so-called two-plus-two talks involving the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers in Moscow, following the previous session in March 2017 in Tokyo, the sources said.
On North Korea, Abe seeks Putin’s cooperation in resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan has been performing a delicate balancing act amid deteriorating ties between Russia and Western countries, in particular the United States, Japan’s major ally, due partly to the Middle East situation.