Japan prime minister in first Russia visit for decade

MOSCOW (AFP) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived on Sunday in Moscow for the first top-level visit in a decade as the two countries aim to turn the page on a festering territorial row.

Mr Abe's plane landed in the evening at Moscow's Vnukovo airport, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency, on the eve of a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin.

"I would like to build a trusted personal relationship with President Putin," Mr Abe told reporters in Tokyo ahead of his departure for the three-day trip.

The two nations never formally signed a peace treaty after World War II and ties have been particularly strained by Tokyo's claim over four islands in the Kuril chain, which are controlled by Moscow.

"I will work on boosting Japan-Russia relations so that this visit will mark a restart in stalled negotiations over a peace treaty," Mr Abe said.

The two neighbours have long expressed a desire to expand business ties but progress has been limited by the territorial dispute.

A Japanese government source told Kyodo News on Sunday that Mr Abe and Mr Putin were expected to release a joint statement after their Monday meeting confirming they would restart territorial talks.

After Mr Abe took office in December, he and Mr Putin agreed to restart talks on signing a peace treaty after finding a solution to the territorial dispute.

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.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has twice visited the island of Kunashir, called Kunashiri in Japan, infuriating Tokyo.

Mr Medvedev's first visit to the island, which juts out past the northeastern tip of Japan's Hokkaido island, in November 2010 - when he still held the post of president - was condemned by Tokyo as an "unforgivable outrage".

Foreign policy issues are also due to be discussed during the trip, including the situation on the Korean peninsula.

Mr Abe was accompanied by a business delegation of 120 people. After Russia, he was due to visit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for talks with leaders there.

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