Japan PM pledges to rekindle ties with Russia

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to reset ties with Russia as he set off Sunday for the first visit by a Japanese premier to Moscow in a decade under the shadow of a festering territorial row.

Abe, who took office in December and made improving ties with Russia one of his priorities, will meet President Vladimir Putin during his three-day visit.

"I would like to build a trusted personal relationship with President Putin," Abe told reporters in Tokyo ahead of his departure.

The two nations never formally signed a peace treaty after World War II and ties have been particularly strained by Tokyo's claim over four islands in the Kuril chain, which are controlled by Moscow.

"I will work on boosting Japan-Russia relations so that this visit will mark a restart in stalled negotiations over a peace treaty," he said.

The two neighbours have long expressed a desire to expand business ties but any progress has been limited by the territorial dispute.

After Abe took office in December, he and Putin agreed to restart talks on signing a peace treaty after finding a solution to the territorial dispute.

The four islands claimed by Tokyo are known as the Northern Territories in Japan. The islands have been controlled by Moscow since they were seized by Soviet troops in 1945 at the end of World War II.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has twice visited the island of Kunashir, called Kunashiri in Japan, infuriating Tokyo.

Medvedev's first visit to the island, which juts out past the northeastern tip of Japan's Hokkaido island, in November 2010 -- when he still held the post of president -- was condemned by Tokyo as an "unforgivable outrage".

Foreign policy issues are also due to be discussed during the trip, including the situation on the Korean peninsula.

Abe, accompanied by a business delegation of 120 people, was due to arrive in Moscow later Sunday and meet Putin on Monday. After Russia, he is due to visit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for talks with leaders there.