Japan

Abe, Putin agree to set up new framework for territorial talks

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Saturday to set up a high-level framework on negotiations for concluding a bilateral postwar peace treaty based on a 1956 joint declaration.

The new talks — which are aimed at speeding up negotiations for a long-standing dispute over islands off Hokkaido — will be led by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, a senior Japanese official said after an Abe-Putin meeting on the margins of a Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires.

The two governments will arrange a meeting between Kono and Lavrov before Abe's planned trip to Russia in January for another summit, the official told reporters.

In a meeting in Singapore last month, Abe and Putin agreed to accelerate negotiations based on the 1956 declaration, which says Shikotan Island and the Habomai islet group — two of four Russian-held islands under dispute — will be handed over to Japan following the conclusion of a peace treaty.

The dispute, which also involves Kunashiri and Etorofu islands, has prevented Tokyo and Moscow from signing a post-World War II peace treaty.

Abe has emphasized that the agreement to accelerate talks based on the declaration would not run counter to Japan's long-held policy of resolving the issue of the status of the four islands before signing a peace treaty.

His focus on the 1956 accord indicates he may prioritize the handover of Shikotan and Habomai, and continue negotiations for the status of the two other islands and conclusion of the treaty.

The islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan's surrender in the war on Aug 15, 1945.

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