Japan PM Abe approaches Russia for peace deal

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers questions during his New Year press conference in Tokyo on Jan 4. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe courted Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday (Jan 4), holding out the prospect for a summit as he renewed his call for progress on an elusive World War II peace treaty.

The two countries have never officially struck a peace accord more than 70 years after the end of the conflict amid a territorial dispute over four Japanese islands seized by Soviet troops at the war's conclusion.

"President Putin and I share the view that it is abnormal for our nations not to have a peace treaty 70 years since" the war, Mr Abe said at his first press conference of the year. "The issues related to the Northern Territories cannot be resolved without exchanges between the leaders," he added, referring to the Japanese appellation for the islands.

"I will continue my dialogue with President Putin when opportunities arise," he added. "We will explore the most appropriate timing for his visit to Japan."

Mr Putin has come under intense criticism from the United States and other democracies over Russia's annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, with the country's participation in the Group of Eight summits under suspension.

Mr Abe is hosting a meeting of Group of Seven leaders in May. Mr Putin is not expected to attend and Mr Abe did not suggest otherwise. But he emphasised the need for dialogue, saying the international community must encourage Russia's participation in the world's fight against terrorism and the Syrian crisis.

"It is also important that we gain Russia's constructive engagement to deal with issues of terrorism, Syria and Iran," Mr Abe said.

Russia has been waging air strikes in Syria since the end of September as it seeks to bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and prevent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and other extremists from carrying out attacks on Russian soil.

But Russia's intervention has also drawn criticism, with US Secretary of State John Kerry last week expressing concern over a heavy civilian toll in Russian air strikes. Mr Abe also stressed at his press conference that he was focused this year on reviving Japan's fragile economy and hosting the G-7 summit.

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