Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, left, shakes hands with Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, ahead of a news conference ahead of the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia. (Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Putin, Abe Agree to Speed Talks Over 70-Year-Old Island Dispute

(Bloomberg) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to accelerate talks on resolving a dispute over four islands that has kept their countries from sealing a peace treaty since World War II.

At a meeting Wednesday in Singapore, the two leaders affirmed that a 1956 declaration under which the Soviet Union agreed to return two islands after the conclusion of a peace treaty with Japan will form the basis for the negotiations, according to both Abe and Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, who separately briefed reporters after the meeting.

“This issue, which has existed for more than 70 years since the end of the war, will be solved by Putin and me, and not left for the next generation,” Abe said. “President Putin and I completely shared that strong desire.”

The move seemed to shift the long-standing dispute back to where it was before Putin caused a stir at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September, when he suddenly called on Abe in front of an audience to sign a peace treaty without preconditions by the end of this year. Japan responded by saying there was “no change” to its policy of seeking a resolution to the dispute over the islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, before reaching a peace agreement.

Abe and Putin have met 23 times since 2012 to try to make progress in resolving the issue. The Japanese leader said he would travel to Russia early next year to advance talks before Putin visits Japan for Group of 20 meetings.

We “have created a new level of cooperation,” Abe said. “On the basis of this new trust, we will solve the islands issue and sign a peace treaty.”

The Soviet Union seized the territories at the end of the war, expelling all 17,000 Japanese residents. Japan’s official position is that the islands -- home to rich fishing grounds -- are an inherent part of its territory and are under illegal occupation. Russia insists that it owns them.

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