Japan PM aims to visit Russia soon to speed up treaty talks

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday he hoped to visit Russia early next year to speed up talks to resolve a territorial dispute and conclude a peace treaty officially ending World War Two hostilities between the two countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe review the guard of honour during a meeting in Tokyo, Japan, December 16, 2016. Sputnik/Sergey Guneev/Kremlin/via REUTERS

Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for two days of talks in Japan last week and struck numerous economic deals but failed to achieve a big breakthrough on the territorial dispute over a string of Western Pacific islands.

“President Putin and I share a strong resolve to put an end to this problem, which has been left unresolved since the end of the war,” Abe said in a speech to Japanese business leaders and government officials.

“I would like to visit Russia early next year and accelerate this momentum for improvement in bilateral ties.”

The disputed islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two, and the dispute over them has clouded their diplomatic ties ever since.

Abe has pledged to resolve the dispute in the hope of leaving a significant diplomatic legacy and building better ties with Russia to counter a rising China.

He had hoped the lure of economic cooperation for Russia’s economy, hit by low oil prices and Western sanctions, would pave the path for progress at the summit talks last week.

Putin, however, risks tarnishing his domestic image as a staunch defender of Russian sovereignty by compromising on the islands.

Abe is next week due to visit Pearl Harbor, the site of a surprise attack by Japanese forces 75 years ago that drew the United States into World War Two.

Abe said he would renew Japan’s pledge not to wage war during the visit to the U.S. naval base in Hawaii and to show the power of reconciliation to a world plagued by conflict.

“I’m confident this history of reconciliation between Japan and the United States is something that brings the light of hope to those who suffer from armed conflicts around the world,” Abe said.

The United States is Japan’s closest ally.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim, Robert Birsel