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Putin, Abe agree to bolster economic ties

December 16, 2016

Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Japan's leader Shinzo Abe failed to reach a breakthrough on the Kuril Islands during Putin's two-day visit. Officials from both sides, however, inked dozens of economic deals.

Japan Wladimir Putin und Shinzo Abe in Tokio
Image: Reuters/A. Zemlianichenko

The "historical ping-pong" over territories claimed by both Moscow and Tokyo needs to end, President Putin said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Abe on Friday.

Putin arrived in Japan on the previous day for his first diplomatic visit since 2005. He met with Abe in his home city of Nagato for talks dominated by the long-running dispute over the Kuril Islands, which Japan calls "Northern Territories." The dispute started with the USSR claiming the four islands at the end of World War II, and has burdened bilateral ties ever since. Tokyo and Moscow have yet to sign a peace accord to formally end wartime hostilities.

Ending the two-day summit with a joint appearance in Tokyo, the two leaders had little to offer towards resolving the stalemate. While both sides have agreed to negotiate on an economic plan to develop the islands, they disagree on the legal framework for the initiative. Russia, which controls the islands, insists that the plan should be conducted under Russian law. In turn, Japan demands a special legal status that would not raise sovereignty issues.

Karte Kuril Islands

'Difficult path ahead'

Speaking alongside Putin on Friday, Abe said overcoming the issue was a complex task, considering the deal "has not been concluded in more than 70 years."

"I think we as the two leaders were able to show our sincere determination toward signing a peace treaty, although a difficult path lies ahead," he said.

Putin concurred, but stressed that signing a peace deal should be a priority in the relations between the neighboring countries.

"If anyone believes that we are only interested in bolstering economic ties, and letting the peace accord fall by the wayside – they are wrong," the Russian president said.

Putin to visit dojo

During the talks in Nagato and Tokyo, representatives of the two countries finalized nearly 70 deals on economic, cultural, science and sports cooperation.

Among other initiatives, the Russian Direct Investment Fund and Japan Bank for International Cooperation agreed on creating a $1 billion (0.96-billion-euros) joint investment fund. Also, Novatek Chief Executive Leonid Mikhelson said his company had signed agreements with Japan's Mitsui & Co, Mitsubishi Corp and Marubeni Corp for the liquefied natural gas plant in the Arctic.

The two leaders also discussed conflicts in Syria and Ukraine and security tensions in Asia. Putin expressed concern about US missile defense systems in Japan, calling it an overreaction to the threat from North Korea, Japanese media reported.

The Russian president was also set to visit a martial arts center before his departure. Putin holds an advanced black belt in judo.

Earlier on Friday, right-wing activists drove near the prime minister's office in Tokyo with loudspeakers mounted on trucks, circling the streets and blaring "Return the islands" and "Putin Go Home."

dj/msh (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters, Interfax)