Putin and Abe discuss peace treaty over Kuril islands

Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the opening ceremony of the Year of Japan in Russia last Saturday. The leaders pledged to move forward on a peace treaty to solve a territorial dispute over the Kuril i
Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the opening ceremony of the Year of Japan in Russia last Saturday. The leaders pledged to move forward on a peace treaty to solve a territorial dispute over the Kuril islands, which the Soviet Union took control of in the closing days of World War II.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MOSCOW • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have pledged to move forward on a peace treaty to solve a territorial dispute over the Kuril islands.

The Soviet takeover of the islands in the closing days of World War II has poisoned relations between the two countries for 70 years.

"We believe it is important to patiently continue the search for a solution that would satisfy the interests of Russia and Japan and that would be accepted by both countries," Mr Putin said at a news conference on Saturday after the talks.

He added that Russia would "assist" in allowing Japanese citizens to visit the Kuril islands.

"Solving (the dispute) is not easy but we would like to end it within the lifetime of our generation," Mr Abe said. He added that Tokyo was "thankful" to Moscow for allowing Japanese citizens to visit the graves of relatives on the islands.

Earlier, Mr Abe had said he hoped for a "new breakthrough" in settling the territorial dispute over the Kuril islands and that he was "ready to reinforce cooperation in a calm but energetic manner".

The summit is the latest attempt to draw a line under WWII since Japan and the Soviet Union began discussions in 1956.

Mr Abe's late father, Mr Shintaro Abe, took the lead in negotiations with Moscow as a foreign minister but died in 1991 after pushing for talks while suffering from cancer.

Japan has been careful to avoid criticising Russia, particularly its role in Syria that has drawn condemnation by Western countries, as it seeks to resolve the territorial dispute.

The two leaders also discussed the North Korea crisis, with Mr Putin calling on countries participating in regulating the North Korea crisis to show "restraint in order not to allow a new spike in confrontation and to keep the situation in the political and diplomatic field".

"The most important (thing) is for North Korea to carry out full and irreversible denuclearisation," Mr Abe said for his part.

Japan and Russia were both members of six-party talks on regulating the North Korea crisis, which also involved China, the US and both Koreas.

Russia has retained close ties with its Soviet ally, North Korea while Pyongyang has test-fired ballistic missiles over Japan.

The talks were designed to offer North Korea security and economic benefits in exchange for denuclearisation but broke down in 2009 when Pyongyang abandoned them.

Mr Putin and Mr Abe pledged to "reinforce cooperation" at a time of tension with the West.

"I am very pleased to have the opportunity to talk in detail on our bilateral relations and political cooperation," Mr Putin said as he greeted Mr Abe in the Kremlin.

The two leaders had already met last week on the sidelines of the St Petersburg Economic Forum where Mr Abe was present as a guest of honour.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 28, 2018, with the headline 'Putin and Abe discuss peace treaty over Kuril islands'. Print Edition | Subscribe