Russia foreign minister to visit Japan in fall

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed Monday that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Japan this fall to boost political dialogue, a Japanese official said.

The leaders also confirmed that the issue of the sovereignty of four Russian-held islands that Japan claims and negotiations toward signing a post-World War II peace treaty would be handled within the framework of subcabinet-level dialogue.

Abe and Putin shared the view that it is important to hold bilateral political dialogue "at a quick tempo" based on the results of their previous talks in Moscow in April, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said.

Lavrov is likely to visit Japan after Russia hosts a Group of 20 summit in September, Kato added.

But the two leaders failed to set a time frame for the first round of subcabinet talks in their meeting on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of Eight major nations in Northern Ireland, Kato said.

Abe and Putin also agreed that the G-8 should keep sending the message that North Korea's possession of nuclear weapons is unacceptable and continue to join hands over the issue.

Abe and Putin agreed their two countries will maintain economic and energy cooperation, Kato said.

In April, Abe and Putin agreed to resume stalled negotiations over the sovereignty of Etorofu, Kunashiri and the Shikotan islands as well as the Habomai islet group off Japan's northernmost main island Hokkaido.

Japan has asked Russia to first confirm that the four islands, which the Soviet Union seized at the end of the war, belong to Japan, saying it can be flexible about when and how the islands are actually returned.

But Russia has been reluctant to make concessions beyond a 1956 joint declaration which says Moscow can return only two of the islands after concluding a peace treaty.

As a result of the dispute, the two countries have yet to sign a peace treaty even nearly 70 years after the end of the war.