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Politics

Abe, Putin keep ball rolling on economic deal for disputed islands

Japanese prime minister calls for Russian support on North Korea

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in an official capacity for the 20th time on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.   © Kyodo

DANANG, Vietnam -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Friday to continue negotiating toward economic cooperation in a disputed set of islands, with Abe also calling for Moscow's support in pressuring North Korea to change its ways.

The two leaders met here for about an hour on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, attended only by interpreters for roughly 15 minutes.

When Putin visited Japan last December, he and Abe agreed to seek a special framework for joint economic activity on the Russian-administered Southern Kurils, which Japan calls the Northern Territories, that left the aside the issue of the islands' status. Abe told reporters afterward Japan's government aimed to "advance steadily, step by step, toward solving the problem of returning the islands and signing a peace treaty" with Russia.

Japanese former residents of the islands can also continue traveling by air to visit ancestors' graves next year as they did successfully in September, the two leaders agreed Friday.

The island dispute, which dates back to the close of World War II, is one barrier keeping the two nations from finally signing a peace treaty to formally end hostilities from that war. Abe and Putin have now met 20 times in an official capacity, counting Abe's first stint as prime minister, but a major breakthrough has yet to materialize.

Friday's meeting was likely Abe and Putin's last before Russia's presidential election in March. Putin congratulated the Japanese leader on his ruling party's sweeping victory in parliamentary elections last month.

The two men also agreed to strictly enforce United Nations Security Council sanctions including limits on supplying oil to North Korea, geared toward denuclearizing the hermit state. Abe called on Russia to take on a greater role in applying pressure to its neighbor.

In their September talks, daylight appeared between Japan and Russia on the North Korea issue, with Putin claiming it was necessary for all relevant parties to participate in dialogue over the situation. Asked whether the Russian leader referred to such talks during Friday's meeting, a Japanese government source declined to give details.

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