Break­through in Ja­pan, Rus­sia is­lands row eludes PM Abe, Putin

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin wrapped up two days of talks on Fri­day, with numer­ous eco­nomic deals but no big break­through on a ter­ri­to­rial row that has over-shad­owed ties since World War Two.

Putin was head­ing home with prom­ises of eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion af­ter ap­pear­ing to achieve what ex­perts said was a key ob­jec­tive - eas­ing in­ter­na­tional iso­la­tion when Rus­sia faces West­ern con­dem­na­tion over the de­struc­tion of east­ern Aleppo in Syria, where it is back­ing Pres­i­dent Bashar al-As­sad’s forces.

Abe and Putin agreed to launch talks on joint eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties on dis­puted is­lands at the cen­tre of the ter­ri­to­rial row as a step to­ward con­clud­ing a peace treaty for­mally end­ing World War Two, the two sides said in a joint state­ment.

The is­lands in the West­ern Pa­cific, called the North­ern Ter­ri­to­ries in Ja­pan and the South­ern Kuriles in Rus­sia, were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War Two and 17,000 Ja­panese res­i­dents were forced to flee. The dis­pute over their sovereignty has pre­vented the two coun­tries sign­ing a peace treaty. Abe said he and Putin had taken “an im­por­tant step” to­ward a peace treaty but con­clud­ing one would not be easy. “The is­sue won’t be solved if each of us just make their own case,” Abe said at a news con­fer­ence with Putin. “We need to make ef­forts to­ward a break­through so that we don’t dis­ap­point the next gen­er­a­tion. We need to set aside the past and cre­ate a win-win so­lu­tion for both of us.”

Putin dis­missed the no­tion that he was only in­ter­ested in get­ting eco­nomic ben­e­fits from Ja­pan. “If any­one thinks we’re in­ter­ested only in de­vel­op­ing eco­nomic links and a peace deal is of se­condary im­por­tance, that’s not the case,” he told the same news con­fer­ence. “For me, the most im­por­tant thing is to sign a peace agree­ment be­cause that would cre­ate the con­di­tions for long-term co-op­er­a­tion.”

“Putin go home”

As the two lead­ers held their sec­ond round of talks on Fri­day, right-wing ac­tivists in trucks mounted with loud­speak­ers cir­cled the streets not far from the prime min­is­ters’ of­fice, blar­ing “Re­turn the is­lands” and “Putin Go Home”.

Abe has pledged to re­solve the ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute in the hope of leav­ing a sig­nif­i­cant diplo­matic legacy and build­ing bet­ter ties with Rus­sia to counter a ris­ing China. He had hoped the lure of eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion for Rus­sia’s econ­omy, hit by low oil prices and West­ern sanc­tions, would pave the path for sig­nif­i­cant progress on the dis­pute. Putin, how­ever, would risk tar­nish­ing his do­mes­tic im­age as a staunch de­fender of Rus­sian sovereignty by com­pro­mis­ing. Ja­panese op­po­si­tion politi­cians were quick to crit­i­cize the talks.

—AP

TOKYO: Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin (3rd R), Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe (3rd L), for­mer Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Yoshiro Mori (2nd L) and vice chair­man of the All Ja­pan Judo Fed­er­a­tion Ya­suhiro Ya­mashita (2nd R) watch a demon­stra­tion of an­cient cus­tom judo dur­ing a visit to the Kodokan judo hall on De­cem­ber 16,2016.

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