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Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, left, shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Friday.   © Reuters
Politics

Japan and Russia face growing rift over North Korea

Foreign ministers also discuss upcoming summit, territorial dispute

MOSCOW -- Japan on Friday urged Russia to take further steps on North Korea's nuclear and missile development, only to encounter pushback over the emphasis on economic sanctions and the threat of U.S.-led military action.

Russia has an extremely large role to play on North Korea, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono told Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov at a meeting here, seeking cooperation in such areas as fully carrying out United Nations sanctions targeting the rogue regime.

Lavrov, meanwhile, expressed concerns over Japan's missile defenses, including a plan to procure the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore system. Kono emphasized that the defenses are intended to counter North Korean attacks and should not pose a threat to ties with Russia.

Any military scenario on North Korea will have disastrous consequences, Lavrov said later in a news conference. Russia advocates a solution through dialogue and has questioned the Japanese-American push for oil embargoes and tougher economic sanctions.

Kono and Lavrov also discussed plans for joint economic activity in a set of disputed islands called the Northern Territories by Japan and the South Kurils by Russia. The countries are focusing on five sectors, including tourism, and will create a special framework that does not undermine either side's legal stance on the Russian-controlled islands. They agreed on holding director-level talks in mid-December and deputy-level talks in January or February.

They agreed to advance preparations for a May meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia. Kono requested that Lavrov visit Japan ahead of the summit.

Kono also attended a meeting of the Japan-Russia Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Issues. He discussed Abe's eight-point plan for economic cooperation with Russia, including in energy and medicine, with committee co-head and Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov. Kono also called on Russia to remove produce and food import restrictions imposed after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.

Kono's paternal grandfather was a key negotiator for a 1956 declaration that restored diplomatic relations between Japan and the then-Soviet Union, and his father founded the trade committee as foreign minister. The trip suggested that Kono will carry on the family tradition and work to advance bilateral ties.

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