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Abe begins 3-day trip to Russia, summit with Putin set

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe set off Wednesday for a three-day trip to Russia, where he plans to meet with President Vladimir Putin to move peace treaty talks forward despite scant hopes for major progress.

During his stay in Vladivostok, Abe plans to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga, both of whom are also scheduled to attend the Eastern Economic Forum, an annual gathering intended to boost investment in the Russian Far East.

"I hope to talk frankly with President Putin to take our peace treaty negotiations to the next level," Abe told reporters at the prime minister's office before departing for Russia.

The highlight of the trip will be his meeting with Putin on Thursday, with the focus on making progress toward resolving a long-standing territorial dispute over Russian-held islands off Hokkaido in northern Japan.

Abe and Putin agreed last year to advance talks toward signing a postwar peace treaty, but rounds of negotiations, including at the working level, have failed to bridge the wide gap between the two countries over the territorial issue.

The dispute over the islands, collectively known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, has stood in the way of Tokyo and Moscow signing a postwar peace treaty.

Abe and Putin have agreed to promote joint economic activities on the islands, with a pilot tour of two of the disputed islands -- Kunashiri and Etorofu -- planned for October.

In his first face-to-face meeting with the Russian leader since June, Abe is also expected to encourage Putin to engage in dialogue with Europe, Japanese officials said, after Group of Seven leaders, who gathered in France last week, discussed the divisive topic of Russia's return to the framework. Russia was dropped after its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Since returning to power in 2012, Abe has been seeking to forge close ties with Putin and it will be their 27th summit. The prime minister has attended the economic forum every year since 2016.

Before meeting with Putin, Abe will hold talks with India's Modi on Thursday in the hope of expanding bilateral cooperation and laying the groundwork for his visit to India, possibly by the end of the year.

Abe will also seek Mongolia's support for resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, during a meeting with Battulga the same day. Mongolia has diplomatic ties with North Korea, but Japan does not.

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