National / Politics

Abe pledges to advance peace treaty talks with Putin despite show of differences

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday he wants to advance postwar peace treaty talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin “as much as possible,” a day after a ministerial-level meeting demonstrated the differences between the nations’ positions on disputed islands.

At a gathering of senior government and ruling bloc officials, Abe explained his plan to make a four-day trip from next Monday, during which he will hold a summit with Putin on Jan. 22. The trip will also take him to the Swiss resort town of Davos to attend the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.

The prime minister said he wants to “have a candid discussion” with Putin on a peace treaty, which the two countries never agreed to after the end of World War II.

The remarks came a day after Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov held a meeting in Moscow aimed at laying the groundwork for the 25th Abe-Putin summit, but the two sides remained apart on the issue of a group of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido.

The dispute over the sovereignty of the four islands between the two countries, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has long kept them from signing a postwar peace treaty.

Abe and Putin agreed during their meeting in Singapore in November to step up talks on the basis of a 1956 joint declaration, which mentioned the transfer of two of the four islands following the conclusion of a peace deal.

The November agreement prompted the view that Japan will first focus on the transfer of the smaller two — the Habomai islet group and Shikotan — despite its long-stated position on seeking a resolution on the status of all four islands, including Etorofu and Kunashiri.

However, Lavrov told reporters after the meeting Monday that it would be difficult to make progress in the peace treaty talks without Japan’s acceptance of the outcome of WWII and Russia’s sovereignty over the islands.

Abe, who has made the settlement of the peace treaty issue one of his top diplomatic priorities, is believed to be seeking a broad agreement in June when Putin is expected to visit Japan for the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.