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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia's Vladivostok.   © Reuters
International relations

Putin, Abe vow teamwork to rein in North Korea

Kremlin still hesitant to exert the pressure Japan wants

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia -- The Japanese and Russian leaders agreed Thursday to work together to counter the North Korean missile and nuclear threats, though the two sides remained at odds on how to convince Pyongyang to give up its saber-rattling.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum for their third set of talks this year. This marked their 19th meeting as national leaders. Also attending were Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and colleague Hiroshige Seko, whose posts include minister of economy, trade and industry as well as minister for economic cooperation with Russia.

Abe quickly steered the discussion toward Pyongyang, saying at the outset that he hoped to discuss such regional issues as the North Korea problem "for the sake of regional peace and stability." The two men agreed that the country represents a severe threat to stability on the Korean Peninsula and in the neighborhood, calling Pyongyang's nuclear weapons test Sunday a deep affront to global nonproliferation efforts. The leaders said Japan and Russia will work closely to address the issues.

Strategic differences

Yet they seemed to disagree on what strategy to pursue. Abe made the case for maximum pressure on Pyongyang and apparently urged Putin to back a U.N. Security Council resolution for additional sanctions, including a total ban on oil shipments to the North. Russia's cooperation is indispensable on this front. The country both wields strong influence over Pyongyang and holds a permanent Security Council seat with veto power over any proposed sanctions.

"There is no bright future for North Korea if it continues down the current path," Abe told reporters after the meeting. Pyongyang must be made to understand this and change its policies, he said.

But while Putin affirmed that Pyongyang's actions pose a global threat, he held that "the nuclear issue can only be settled by political and diplomatic means."

"It is necessary to reduce the general tensions and then develop a dialogue between the interested parties as has been proposed -- for example, in the Russian-Chinese road map for a step-by-step settlement," he said. Those two countries have called for a simultaneous halt to the North's nuclear and missile development and the joint military exercises staged by the U.S. and South Korea.

Putin took a similar tack in talks Wednesday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Russia is concerned about the harm an oil embargo would do to civilians, such as by disrupting hospitals, he said.

Money talks

Discussions about economic cooperation on disputed islands north of Japan's Hokkaido proved more productive. The leaders designated five projects, including tours to the area and aquaculture, as priorities and agreed on plans to establish a high-level working group to realize the efforts.

Public- and private-sector entities in the two countries inked more than 30 memorandums of understanding that will advance bilateral cooperation in eight areas Tokyo and Moscow agreed to last year. And former residents of the islands now living in Japan will be flown in to visit family members' graves starting in late September, the leaders agreed.

Abe next meets with Putin this coming November, in conjunction with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders' summit. He has also accepted Putin's invitation to appear at an economic forum in St. Petersburg next May.

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