Japan's PM Abe, Russia's President Putin express new resolve to settle island territorial row

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shaking hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia on Sept 2, 2016.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) shaking hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia on Sept 2, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

VLADIVOSTOK (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Saturday (Sept 3) spoke of their joint resolve to settle once and for all a territorial row over a string of tiny islands that has marred ties for more than seven decades.

In a speech delivered at a business conference in the Russian port city of Vladivostok, with Mr Putin in attendance, Mr Abe urged Mr Putin to work with him to solve the dispute. "As the leader of Japan, I am firmly convinced of the correctness of the Japanese position, while you, Vladimir, as the leader of Russia, are entirely confident of the correctness of the Russian position," Mr Abe said. "Yet, if we continue on like this, this very same discussion will continue for yet more decades to come. By leaving the situation as it is, neither you nor I will be able to leave better possibilities to future generations."

Mr Putin, on his part, said on Saturday that his country is ready to take decisive steps to resolve a seven-decade territorial dispute with Japan over a string of Pacific islands controlled by Russia. "The past should not be an obstacle to moving forward," Mr Putin told the forum, where he shared a stage with Mr Abe. "We have to think how to get rid of problems which do not allow us to move forward."

He added that while Russia was ready to act decisively in pursuit of a solution to the row, all steps had to be thoroughly thought through.

Japan claims the string of western Pacific islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and Southern Kuriles in Russia.

The territorial row over the island chain, seized by Soviet troops at the end of World War II, has upset diplomatic relations ever since, precluding a formal peace treaty between the two countries.

Mr Abe's father Shintaro Abe worked to resolve the dispute in the 1980s as foreign minister.

The speech comes one day after he held talks with Mr Putin and agreed to have two more summit meetings by the end of the year to accelerate peace treaty negotiations.

"Vladimir, in order to carve out towards the future bilateral relations overflowing with unlimited potential, I am resolved to putting forth all my strength to advance the relationship between Japan and Russia, together with you," Mr Abe said.

Concessions over the islands would carry risks for Putin but could boost Japanese investment in Russia at a time when Moscow, battered by low global oil prices and Western sanctions, badly needs an injection of cash.

"The economies of Russia and Japan are not in rivalry. I am fully confident that ours is a relationship in which each complements the other in a magnificent way," Mr Abe said.