Japan PM to visit Russia in new push for improved ties

MOSCOW (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Moscow next week for talks with President Vladimir Putin, on his first visit to Russia of his current stint in office, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.

Mr Abe's visit from April 28-30 appears aimed at giving a new impulse to bilateral ties, which have long been stymied by a long-standing territorial dispute dating from World War II.

The Kremlin said that the two sides would discuss "the perspectives of the further development of the whole range of bilateral cooperation" during Mr Abe's visit.

Foreign policy issues will also be discussed, including the situation on the Korean peninsula after North Korea's bellicose behaviour in recent weeks troubled both Moscow and Tokyo.

Neighbours in the Pacific region, Japan and Russia have long expressed a desire to expand relations in particular in business, but ties have been limited by the dispute over the Pacific Kuril islands.

The two nations have never formally signed a World War II peace treaty, with Japan maintaining its claim over the southernmost four of the islands, all of which are controlled by Moscow.

However Mr Abe has shown signs of a more conciliatory line on the issue than his predecessor, saying in February that he wants to find a "mutually acceptable solution" to the territorial row.

After Mr Abe took office in December, he and Mr Putin agreed to restart talks on signing a peace treaty.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has infuriated Tokyo twice, in July 2012 and November 2010, visiting the island of Kunashir which lies just north of Japan's Hokkaido island.

Mr Medvedev's first visit to Kunashir in November 2010 - when he still held the post of president - sparked a furious reaction from Tokyo which condemned the trip as a "unforgiveable outrage".

The four islands claimed by Tokyo are known as the Northern Territories in Japan. The islands have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945 at the end of World War II.