Almost 68 years after the end of World War II,
Russia and Japan are renewing efforts to sign a peace treaty, leaders
of both countries said Monday.
President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged that a treaty was in both countries' interest, despite the fact that there is no agreement yet on the long-standing territorial dispute over a group of Pacific islands.
"The situation that we do not have a peace treaty 67 years after the end of the war is not normal," Abe said after talks with Putin at the Kremlin, the Interfax news agency reported.
The two leaders agreed to step up efforts to work out such a treaty, Putin said.
"We ordered our foreign ministries to intensify contacts to work out a solution that is acceptable to both sides," he added.
Relations between the two countries have been peaceful for decades, but they never signed a treaty formally ending hostilities because of a territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands.
The 56 islands are under Russian rule, but Japan claims the four southern islands, which it calls the Northern Territories.
Moscow has controlled the islands since August 1945. It has recently angered Tokyo by dispatching Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to them and increasing its military presence in the area.
Putin and Abe admitted that, for a peace treaty to go forward, the island dispute needs to be solved.
Putin said that a solution was possible - if both sides create "good-minded relations and an atmosphere of trust." Abe said that both sides had agreed to solve all outstanding disputes.
Experts have linked the fresh impetus to improve both countries' ties with growing common economic interests. An aide to Abe said that Tokyo hopes to build a gas pipeline linking both countries.
"Japan wants to diversify its energy imports," the aide, Etsuro Honda, told Interfax.
Abe's visit to Moscow was the first by a Japanese premier in 10 years. He and Putin also discussed regional security issues and trade, according to Kremlin officials.
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