SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday he agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin to push forward with talks toward the conclusion of a peace treaty between the two countries that has been hampered by a long-standing territorial dispute.
“I agreed with President Putin to accelerate negotiations on a peace treaty based on the 1956 joint declaration between Japan and the Soviet Union,” Abe told reporters after their meeting in Singapore.
Abe said he will visit Russia early next year for further talks, expressing hope to put “an end” to the unresolved, postwar diplomatic issue through peace treaty talks between the two leaders. Abe’s term ends in 2021.
In the 1956 joint document, Moscow agreed to hand over two of the four disputed islands off Hokkaido to Tokyo once a peace treaty was signed. The declaration was intended to restore diplomatic ties by ending wartime hostilities, and Putin has acknowledged its legal validity.
The Soviet Union seized the islands after Japan’s surrender in World War II in 1945.
In light of Abe’s reference to the joint declaration, securing the return of Shikotan and the Habomai islet group may become the primary focus of upcoming talks, even though uncertainty remains over whether Japan and Russia can produce major progress.
Tokyo has maintained that the dispute over the islands, which also include Etorofu and Kunashiri, should be resolved before the signing of a peace treaty.
Such a stance remains in place after Wednesday’s summit, according to a senior Japanese government official.
The leaders met in Singapore for the first time since September, when Putin suddenly proposed that the two countries conclude a peace treaty “without any preconditions” by year-end. Abe rejected the proposal.
Putin told Abe on Wednesday he was pleased to discuss issues related to bilateral cooperation, including “what you prioritize.”
The two leaders talked about joint economic activities on the Russia-held, Japan-claimed islands, as they visited Singapore for a spate of gatherings related to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The promotion of such activities is aimed at building confidence between Tokyo and Moscow toward eventually ending the territorial row over the islands. Abe and Putin have approved a road map for projects in five key areas such as agriculture and tourism.
In the months ahead, the two leaders are expected to engage in a series of meetings. Abe plans to meet with Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires starting Nov. 30, and also in June when Japan hosts the G20 gathering in Osaka.
“President Putin and I share a strong resolve that it be us who put an end to the issue that has been left unresolved for more than 70 years after the war,” Abe said.