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Abe eyes Russia trip early next year to advance peace treaty issue

TOKYO, Dec. 20, Kyodo — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Tuesday he wants to visit Russia at an early date next year to “accelerate momentum” built with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week on resolving a territorial row and signing a post-World War II peace treaty.


In a speech in Tokyo, Abe hit back at criticism that he made little headway in the talks with Putin, saying Japanese people could again live on Russian-held islands at the center of the territorial dispute as a result of joint economic activities.


“(I find it) profoundly moving that we were able to take an important step toward the conclusion of the peace treaty as the result of our talks,” Abe said.


During their summit on Thursday and Friday, the leaders failed to overcome differences over the sovereignty of the Russian-held islands off Hokkaido that are claimed by Japan, which were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan’s surrender in 1945.


Abe defended the progress made by the leaders, including an agreement to consider “internationally unprecedented” joint economic activities on the islands under a system that does not compromise either country’s legal stance.


“The enhancement of economic ties might look like it will take time, but it’s a shortcut to signing the peace treaty,” Abe said.


“If (the joint activities are) realized, Japanese people could make many visits to the islands and live there, and with trust, we can make the islands (a place of) coexistence rather than of confrontation,” Abe said.


“There is no way (to resolve the islands issue) except by envisioning a future in which the people of both Japan and Russia advance together,” he added.


In a Kyodo News poll released Sunday, 54.3 percent of respondents nationwide viewed the outcome of the talks negatively, while 38.7 percent were positive.


Abe also said his upcoming visit with outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama to Pearl Harbor, the site of the 1941 Japanese surprise attack that drew the United States into World War II, will “show the great power of reconciliation to the world.”


Abe is scheduled to visit the site and hold his last summit with Obama during a two-day trip to Hawaii next week.


Asked after his speech about the prospects for legislation to allow the possible abdication of Emperor Akihito, Abe said the issue “must not be used for political advantage.”


A government panel is currently considering how to respond to the emperor’s concern that his advancing age may prevent him from fully executing his duties.


Addressing speculation that he might dissolve the House of Representatives for a snap election in the near future, the prime minister said he “is not thinking at all” of doing so.


Abe said he told a meeting of heavyweights from his Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday morning to “rest and relax for the time being, and that next year, I want them to keep alert and not forget to be prepared for battle at all times,” he said.


LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai told reporters after that meeting that the party’s lawmakers “won’t be welcoming the new year with idleness.”

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