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International Relations

Japan and Russia discuss timeline for cooperation in disputed islands

Abe eyes better bilateral relations on economy and defense

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Vladivostok on Sept. 10.   © Reuters

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- Japan and Russia agreed Monday on an action plan for launching joint economic projects in a chain of Russian-controlled islands that Japan claims as the Northern Territories, in a step toward resolving their long-standing dispute.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin met here ahead of the Eastern Economic Forum. This marked their 22nd one-on-one talks, including those from Abe's first run as Japan's prime minister in 2006 and 2007.

Planned projects include farming sea urchin and multiple types of fish, growing strawberries in greenhouses, and organizing group tours for tourists, according to a Japanese government source. The two sides apparently also discussed a general timeline, said the source, who did not reveal specific dates.

Abe and Putin agreed that Japan will send a public-private delegation to the islands in early October. The trip was initially planned for August but called off over bad weather. Abe hopes that economic activities will deepen exchanges between the Japanese and Russian peoples and help eventually resolve the territorial dispute -- a key obstacle preventing the countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II.

Representatives also signed 10 memorandums of understanding on the sidelines of the summit, including on the public-private development of liquefied natural gas in the Arctic.

"The characteristics of Japanese-Russian cooperation are changing our approaches, and we can do these things without encroaching on the legal positions of either side," Abe said in a post-meeting news conference after touting joint efforts on the islands. He described a peace treaty as a shared goal.

Putin, speaking before Abe, acknowledged that the issue could not be resolved overnight and placed the joint economic projects in the context of the search for a solution acceptable to the people of both countries.

Abe, who seeks re-election to a third consecutive term as president of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Sept. 20, wants to improve ties with Russia beyond just the economy. He and Putin affirmed that Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, the top uniformed officer in the Japan Self-Defense Forces, will visit Russia in October to promote increased defense-related exchanges. Japan will also ease visa restrictions for Russian group tours that month.

Still, Abe told Putin that he will keep a close eye on the large-scale military drills starting Tuesday in the Russian Far East.

The two men agreed to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 gathering next June in Osaka.

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