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Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe agree on joint Russian-Japan activities on Kuril Islands

By Allen Cone
Vladimir Putin, Shinzo Abe agree on joint Russian-Japan activities on Kuril Islands
Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (R) shake hands during a plenary session of the Russian-Japanese business forum Friday in Tokyo. Vladimir Putin was on a two-day visit in Japan. Photo by Michael Klimentyev/European Pressphoto Agency/Sputnik/Kremlin pool

TOKYO, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, wrapping up two days of talks in Japan, agreed Friday to launch "joint economic activities" on four disputed Russian-held South Kuril Islands.

The leaders also announced expanded economic cooperation in about 80 business deals between companies and government agencies. Japan's combined investments, loans and credit line for Russia will total $43 billion under the deals, a senior government official told The Japan Times.

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Putin and Abe also agreed to restore military cooperation between the two countries as well as ties in the spheres "frozen" in recent years, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

The two leaders met for three hours Thursday in Abe's ancestral hometown of Nagato, a mountainside resort in southwest Japan. They spent about 40 minutes developing an agreement on joint activities on the Kuril Islands "that would be suitable to both parties," Yury Ushakov, the Kremlin aide, told reporters. Earlier, Russian and Japanese experts couldn't agree on the wording of the statement, Ushakov said.

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The islands have two names: Northern Territories by Japan and Southern Kuriles by Russia.

At the end of World War II, Soviet forces seized the islands in the Western Pacific and forced 17,000 Japanese residents to flee. The two countries have refused to sign a peace treaty involving the islands.

Russia insists Russian law would apply to any economic activities on them. But Tokyo argues that Moscow is illegally occupying the islands and Russian law would be unacceptable.

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"The issue of sovereignty [of the South Kuril Islands] wasn't raised in any way. It's not up for discussion here," Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Abe said joint economic activities on the islands would be conducted under a special legal system that allows each country to retain legal arguments in the territorial dispute.

In a 1956 joint declaration, the then-Soviet Union agreed to hand over two of the four islands after concluding a peace treaty with Japan. But the document is still considered active by Russia and Japan.

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Abe said Russia and Japan should stop debating the territorial claims and instead focus on economic cooperation, including on the disputed islands.

"I'm convinced of the legitimacy of Japan's position and Vladimir is convinced of Russia's own. We cannot resolve [the dispute] no matter how many times we argue over the cause with each other," Abe said.

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"We should not stick to the past only, and need to build up a win-win relationship" through economic cooperation first, Abe added.

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And Putin agreed.

"First we need to improve the economic relationship," he said.

"We should build up the joint economic mechanism that the prime minister has proposed," he continued. "It's important to move forward to the conclusion of a peace treaty based on this foundation."

During Friday's talks, they agreed to consider simplifying procedures for letting former Japanese residents of the islands visit their hometowns for humanitarian reasons. As of March, the average age of the 6,000 remaining former residents was 80.7.

During the news conference Friday, Putin said a nationwide ceasefire in Syria is the next step to restoring peace in the country after the recapture of the city Aleppo.

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