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Abe, Putin discuss economic programs on disputed islands

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands prior to their talks at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 10, 2018. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Kyodo) -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin held talks in Vladivostok on Monday, with joint economic activities on disputed islands off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido high on the agenda.

At the outset of their summit on the sidelines of an annual economic forum in the Russian Far East port city, the two leaders said their countries' bilateral relations are continuing to grow as a result of their repeated meetings to date.

"Relations between the two countries have been smoothly developing since the Japan-Russia summit two years ago in Nagato" in western Japan, Abe said, while Putin said bilateral ties are "greatly improving."

Abe also said he wants to talk about a post-World War II peace treaty, which Tokyo and Moscow have not signed due to a territorial row over the group of islands between the two countries.

Japan is looking to build trust through economic activities as a step toward settling a decades-long territorial row over the Russian-held islands and eventually signing the peace treaty. Russia, for its part, aims to attract Japanese investment in the resource-rich but underdeveloped Far East region.

The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, which are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II in 1945.

Attention will be focused on whether the two sides can work out details of the planned activities on the islets in the five areas that Abe and Putin agreed on last year in Vladivostok, including aquaculture and tourism.

Last month, the two countries failed to dispatch business missions to the islands due to bad weather.

It remains unclear whether the two sides will be able to come up with a special framework that does not compromise either side's legal position on the islands' sovereignty or create legal problems in implementing the economic activities.

The Abe-Putin summit comes ahead of Russia's planned large-scale military exercise in the Far East and Siberian regions, although Moscow has explained it will not take place on the contested islands.

During their 22nd face-to-face talks, Abe and Putin may exchange views on cooperation toward the denuclearization of North Korea ahead of what will be the third summit between South Korean President Moon Jae In and the North's leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for Sept. 18 to 20.

The Eastern Economic Forum has been held since 2015 under Putin's initiative aimed at attracting investment to the Far East region. Kim was invited to the event, but the Russian government said he will not take part.

The Japanese prime minister, along with other participating leaders, is scheduled to deliver a speech in Wednesday's plenary session.

During his four-day stay in Vladivostok, Abe will separately meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak Yon and Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga, according to the Japanese government.

In the Japan-China summit scheduled on Wednesday, Abe and Xi are expected to talk about how to promote ties further as this year marks the 40th anniversary of a bilateral peace and friendship treaty.

As part of high-level reciprocal visits, Abe is looking to fix the date of his planned visit to China on Oct. 23, when the treaty took effect 40 years ago, Japanese government sources said.

Abe and Xi are likely to discuss ways to promote bilateral cooperation under Xi's "One Belt, One Road" cross-border infrastructure initiative.

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