Abe, Putin start hot spring summit, seeking progress on Japan-Russia islands row

Japan – (warsoor) – Japan and Russia will likely revive security talks and keep discussing a territorial row that has kept them from signing a peace treaty formally ending World War Two, Russia’s foreign minister said on Thursday, as the countries’ leaders met.

Japanese Prime Minister Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks at a hot spring resort, seeking progress on the row over windswept isles in the western Pacific controlled by Russia but also claimed by Japan.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that Putin had offered to resume security talks among their foreign and defence ministers, suspended after Russia annexed the Crimea region in 2014, triggering Western sanctions.

“The prime minister has reacted positively, so we hope such a decision will be taken,” Lavrov said.

The two sides are likely to clinch agreements on economic cooperation in areas from medical technology to energy.

But both have sought to dampen expectations of a breakthrough in the feud over the islands seized by Soviet forces at the end of the war.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin smile during their meeting at a hot springs resort in Nagato, Japan, December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin smile during their meeting at a hot springs resort in Nagato, Japan, December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool

The two met at a mountainside inn at the hot spring resort of Nagato in Abe’s home constituency in southwest Japan. They will meet again in Tokyo on Friday.

“After such a meeting between leaders, I promise you can relax in onsen,” Abe said in welcoming Putin, referring to the hot spring, after the Russian leader arrived nearly three hours late.

Abe has pledged to resolve the territorial dispute, in hopes of leaving a diplomatic legacy that eluded his foreign minister father, and of building better ties with Russia to counter a rising China.

But a deal to end the dispute over the islands, known in Japan as the Northern Territories and in Russia as the Southern Kuriles, carries risks for Putin, who does not want to tarnish his image at home of a staunch defender of Russian sovereignty.

The isles have strategic value for Russia, ensuring naval access to the western Pacific.

Lavrov said Abe and Putin also discussed Syria. The talks also come as Russia faces Western criticism over the destruction of eastern Aleppo in Syria, where Russia is backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Source: Reuters

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