Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Friday to advance talks to realize joint economic activities on Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido.
Abe and Putin agreed to hold a vice foreign ministerial meeting in late August in Moscow as part of an effort to craft specific projects for such activities, a senior Japanese official told reporters after their talks in Hamburg, Germany, on the fringes of the Group of 20 summit.
Japan hopes joint economic activities, once started, will pave the way for addressing a decades-long territorial dispute with Russia.
The vice ministerial meeting will come ahead of planned talks between Abe and Putin in September on the sidelines of an economic forum in Vladivostok, the official said.
The leaders also agreed to cooperate in arranging special grave visits by former residents of the islands by plane in September. Such visits had originally been scheduled for June, but were cancelled due to bad weather.
Speaking at the meeting, part of which was open to the media, Abe said, “We would like to further develop a relationship of trust between the two countries by promoting joint economic activities, as well as grave visits and visits to (former island residents’) hometowns in a freer way.”
Putin said he is glad that the two sides “are having such active dialogue,” which he said he hopes “will make it possible for us to resolve decades-old problems,” according to Tass news agency.
Since Abe and Putin agreed in December to launch negotiations for joint economic activities on the islands, Japan and Russia have conducted a feasibility study there.
In Friday’s meeting, the leaders affirmed the June 27-July 1 study on the islets was “extremely meaningful,” and that it will accelerate talks for joint economic activities on the islands, according to the senior Japanese official.
The dispute over the islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from concluding a postwar peace treaty.
Abe, meanwhile, called for Russia’s increased role in reining in North Korea as he stressed the need to ramp up international pressure on Pyongyang in response to its aggressive development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, according to the official.
Putin was quoted by the official as saying he fully understands Japan’s concern, and that Moscow has been urging Pyongyang to stop actions that run counter to the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.