National / Politics

Abe urges Putin to fulfill ‘historical duty’ and sign treaty amid deadlock over disputed isles

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to step up efforts to resolve a long-standing territorial dispute between their countries and sign a postwar peace treaty, calling it their “historical duty.”

“The new relationship of cooperation between Japan and Russia is becoming more apparent thanks to our work,” Abe said in a speech at a regional economic forum in Vladivostok in the Russian Far East.

“And beyond that, we have a historical duty to sign a peace treaty. Let’s fulfill our responsibility to history. Let’s sign a peace treaty and set free the unlimited potential of our people,” the prime minister said.

Japan and Russia are engaged in a row over the sovereignty of four Russian-held islands lying off Hokkaido, which has prevented them from signing a formal peace treaty since the end of World War II.

Putin on Thursday confirmed his agreement with Abe last year to accelerate peace treaty talks based on a 1956 joint declaration, which mentions Moscow handing over two of the four islands. The Soviet Union took control of the islands — collectively called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia — after Japan’s surrender in the war. But Moscow has recently hardened its stance on the issue. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last month visited the largest of the islands, Etorofu, drawing protests from Tokyo.

Earlier Thursday, Putin hailed the opening of a seafood processing factory on Shikotan by sending a video message to a ceremony marking the start of operations, a move seen as flaunting Russia’s control of the islands.

Despite the lack of progress on the issue, Abe and Putin said after their previous meeting in June that they would move ahead with plans to conduct joint economic activities on the islands, with a pilot program for tourism to start in October.

“I welcome the fact that our agreement is being steadily implemented,” Abe said at the outset of Thursday’s meeting, held on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum.

Putin said bilateral relations “are stable and develop actively,” and that he looks forward to discussing future cooperation with the prime minister. Abe was expected to encourage Putin to engage in dialogue with European countries, Japanese officials said, after discussions were held at a Group of Seven leaders summit in France late last month on the divisive topic of Russia’s return to the multilateral framework. Russia was expelled in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea.

Abe has sought to cultivate a personal relationship with Putin. Abe, who invited the Russian leader to his constituency in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 2016, often calls him Vladimir at joint news conferences and has attended the forum every year since 2016.

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