Russia's Putin accepts Japan invitation, minister says
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has accepted an invitation to visit Japan, and the two countries will soon start consultations on a peace treaty, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday.
Lavrov made clear that despite the visit, the dates of which have not been agreed, there would be no swift solution to a territorial dispute that has prevented the signing of a formal peace treaty following the end of World War Two.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe invited Putin to visit Japan in 2014 while on a trip to Moscow last April, during which they agreed to revive talks on resolving the dispute over a chain of islands known in Russia as the Southern Kuriles and in Japan as the Northern Territories.
"President Putin has accepted the Japanese prime minister's invitation to visit the country," Lavrov told a news conference. "I am certain that we will agree on a date that is convenient for both sides."
Lavrov said an "improvement in the general atmosphere of Russian-Japanese relations in the last couple of years" had led to the resumption of talks on the disputed islands.
The islands northeast of Hokkaido were seized by the Soviet Union after it declared war on Japan in August 1945, forcing about 17,000 Japanese to flee, days before Japan surrendered.
Lavrov said the first round of talks on the islands would be held in Tokyo in several weeks. Recognition of the outcome of World War Two would be vital, he said.
Putin visited Japan as president in 2005 and as prime minister in 2009. Abe's visit in April was the first official visit to Moscow by a Japanese prime minister in a decade.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)