Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin met Saturday in Moscow to discuss bilateral economic cooperation and security issues.
Denuclearization of North Korea was also likely high on the agenda, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s vacillation over whether to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month, and news South Korean President Moon Jae In and Kim met Saturday for a second time.
In their 21st face-to-face meeting, Abe and Putin are expected to discuss how to foster joint economic activities in five areas on disputed islands controlled by Moscow, as agreed to last September.
The two leaders are likely to agree to launch consultations on sightseeing tours involving travel agencies of both countries, culturing sea urchins and farming strawberries, Japanese government sources said.
Japan hopes the activities will pave the way to settling a decades-long territorial row over the islands, and ultimately to signing a post-World War II peace treaty. For its part, Russia aims to attract Japanese investments in the underdeveloped Far East region.
Abe is banking on Putin, who in March won election to a second consecutive six-year term as president, and to his fourth term overall, to make a landmark decision over the contested isles off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido.
In a joint interview with Kyodo News and other news agencies Friday in St. Petersburg, Putin said a peace treaty is possible if bilateral relations deepen through planned joint economic activities.
But when it comes to the disputed islands, it is still unclear whether the two countries will be able to come up with a “special framework” that does not compromise either side’s legal position on the islands’ sovereignty.
The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized by the former Soviet Union at the end of the war.
As part of humanitarian measures, Abe and Putin will likely agree to allow former Japanese residents of the islands to travel by aircraft to the islands this year to visit relatives’ graves, as was allowed last year for the first time, the sources said.
Abe and Putin will also likely discuss how far the eight-point economic cooperation package, which Abe proposed two years ago, has advanced, the sources said.
On security, the two leaders may agree to hold the next round of so-called two-plus-two talks — involving the two countries’ foreign and defense ministers — in Moscow, following a session in March 2017 in Tokyo, the sources said.
On North Korea, Abe seeks Putin’s cooperation in resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by the North in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan has been performing a delicate balancing act amid deteriorating ties between Russia and Western countries, in particular the United States, Japan’s major ally.