Putin, Abe talks fail to break island impasse

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe make a joint statement following their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Reuters pic)

MOSCOW: The leaders of Russia and Japan fell short of agreement on Tuesday over a disputed island chain that has long prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to Moscow marked the 25th time he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met since 2013, a reflection of their efforts to build cooperation despite the territorial disagreement.

The Soviet army seized the four Kuril islands, between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean, in the last days of World War II.

Tokyo’s refusal to recognise Moscow’s sovereignty there has been a barrier to peace for more than seven decades.

Putin told journalists following the talks that there remained “detailed work” ahead for the two parties before any agreement, but hailed the summit as “useful and substantial.”

He confirmed Moscow is still interested in building the negotiating process on a 1956 Soviet-Japanese declaration “which stipulates first and foremost the signing of a peace accord,” Putin said.

The declaration mooted giving Japan two of the smaller islands after a peace deal, which fell through due to Tokyo’s claim over all four and its eventual military alliance with Washington.

Abe said at the joint briefing that the leaders “discussed the peace agreement without hiding anything from one another” and “agreed to continue energetic work,” in comments translated from Japanese.

The two leaders held a “tete-a-tete meeting for about 50 minutes,” Takeshi Osuga, the Japanese foreign ministry’s press secretary, told a briefing in Moscow following the talks.