Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to work for the resolution of a row over islands seized by the then-Soviet Union at the end of World War Two, a day before he is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Abe said it was “not normal” that the two countries had failed to seal a peace treaty 68 years after the end of the war. “I am determined to work with tenacity to resolve the biggest problem in our relationship,” he said at a rally held annually to demand the return of what are known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia.
Abe and Putin have met four times since he took office in December 2012, seeking to boost business and security ties even as they wrangle over rights to the islands. Abe has not held summits with China or South Korea, with whom Japan has separate territorial disputes.
The area disputed with Russia consists of four islands northeast of Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido. The Soviet Union declared war on Japan in the closing days of World War Two, took control of the islands and deported thousands of Japanese residents over the next few years, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Since Abe took office, the two countries have established a “two-plus-two” dialogue between their foreign and defense ministers, who agreed at their first meeting in November that their navies should train together. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida is set to visit Russia later this year and Putin may also visit Japan.
After attending the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics today, Abe will meet Putin tomorrow and attend part of the women’s figure skating competition. Asked why Abe had chosen to attend, while U.S. President Barack Obama and other leaders are avoiding the event, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he did not want to connect human rights issues to the Olympics.
Japan is preparing to host the summer Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
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