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International relations

Northern Territories issue haunts Japan's leaders

Despite unfavorable odds, personal and security reasons drive Abe

| Japan
The dispute over the remote islands off the coast of Hokkaido has kept Japan and Russia from signing a postwar peace treaty.

Whenever Japanese and Russian leaders meet, the issue of what Japan refers to as the Northern Territories is unavoidable. This territorial dispute is the underlying factor in dealings between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin -- and continues to drive Abe for both personal and security reasons, despite dismal prospects for any solution.

But the issue has endured since August 1945, when Soviet forces occupied the islands after Japan announced its intention to surrender. It continues to prevent the signing of a bilateral peace treaty to formally end World War II.

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