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Abe describes upcoming meetings with Putin as ‘extremely important’

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Friday his talks next month and after with Russian President Vladimir Putin will be very significant, as he has sought to settle a long-standing territorial dispute with the country over a group of disputed islands and sign a postwar peace treaty.

“I will build next-generation Japan-Russia ties,” Abe said in a speech at the headquarters of Kyodo News in Tokyo. “From next month and thereafter, I believe summits with President Putin will be extremely important.”

Abe has said he plans to hold talks with Putin on at least two more occasions by the end of the year, when they attend international meetings, in an attempt to break an impasse over the sovereignty of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido. One of the meetings could be a summit of the Group of 20 major economies set to be held in Argentina in November.

Abe’s remarks came after Putin surprised the Japanese leader last month, during a regional economic forum in Vladivostok, by proposing the two countries conclude a post-World War II peace treaty “without any preconditions” by the end of this year.

The disputed islands — Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan, and the Habomai islet group — are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. They were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s World War II surrender in August 1945.

Abe also said he wants to take bilateral ties with China to a “new stage” when he visits Beijing later this month to hold talks with President Xi Jinping.

“I hope to expand exchanges between people of the two countries in all areas through reciprocal visits by the leaders,” Abe said.

The trip will be Abe’s first official visit to China, apart from attendances at international conferences, since he took office in late 2012.

Abe also reiterated his willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to resolve outstanding issues, including Pyongyang’s past abductions of Japanese nationals, which is one of his key political goals.

“I seek to normalize diplomatic relations (with Pyongyang) by settling the North Korean abduction, nuclear and missile issues and clearing away the sad past,” he said.