Japan PM to attend Kremlin talks on first visit for decade

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday during the first top-level visit in a decade as the two countries seek to revive ties soured by a festering territorial dispute.

The two leaders were due to hold one-on-one talks at the Kremlin followed by meetings involving business delegations from both sides. They were then to give a joint news conference.

A Japanese government source told Kyodo News on Sunday that Abe and Putin were expected to release a joint statement after their meeting confirming they would restart territorial talks.

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

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," Abe said.

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

The Kremlin, in a statement released by Putin's press service ahead of the visit, said that Russia believed that "dialogue in the interests of arriving at a mutually acceptable solution must be held in a calm, respectful atmosphere."

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 was accompanied by a business delegation of 120 people. After Russia, he was due to visit Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey for talks with leaders there.