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Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2005

Putin, Koizumi bolster economic ties, skip isles

Staff writer

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed Monday to increase security and economic cooperation despite the 60-year territorial row over the four Russian-held islands off northern Hokkaido.

The trip is Putin's first visit to Japan since September 2000 but the positions of both nations on the territorial row remain too far apart to make any significant progress.

At a news conference after their summit, Koizumi and Putin said they agreed to make future efforts to resolve the dispute, which has been haunting the two nations since the end of World War II.

"We confirmed our political will to seriously seek a resolution based on past agreement and documents and to seek a resolution that can be accepted by both countries," Koizumi said.

"There is a difference of opinion on the issue involving the Northern Territories," he said. "But we agreed to seek ways to resolve this important issue and overcome the gap through development of bilateral relations."

Putin said the two countries should seek measures that will fulfill their national interests and that of the people living on the four islands.

During the summit, he said the territorial row "should not be politicized," according to a senior Foreign Ministry official who briefed reporters.

Neither side proposed launching a joint economic project on the four islands, the official said.

It was agreed that a strategic dialogue would be set up between Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov.

Putin asked Koizumi to visit to Moscow next year. The two sides will discuss further details via diplomatic channels, but a ministry official said Koizumi is likely to make the visit when he attends the Group of Eight summit to be held in Saint Petersburg in July.

The two leaders and their ministers signed 12 documents detailing cooperation on topics ranging from international terrorism to energy and other issues, including Russia's promise to build a Pacific-bound pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Russian Far East.

Putin said Russia will provide oil to both China and Japan. But he added that Moscow has not made a decision that will prioritize China.

Koizumi stressed that the pipeline project would not only benefit Japan but Russia as well, the official said.

Japan has been urging Moscow to ensure that the pipeline, which will link an oil field in East Siberia to Nakhodka on the Russian Pacific coast, will be built, although Russia is apparently putting priority on building a branch line from the midway point in Skovorodino to Daqing, China.

Koizumi, like his predecessors, was also unable to get Moscow to return the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets, which were seized by Soviet troops in August 1945 days after Japan surrendered.

About 100 Russian businesspeople accompanied Putin on his three-day visit to Tokyo, which began Sunday. The entourage suggests Putin was focused only on boosting economic ties.

The Foreign Ministry had considered drafting a joint statement on the isle dispute, but Russia's "unrepentant attitude" on the agenda made it difficult, a top ministry official said.

"The Russian economy is prospering recently due to a sharp rise of oil prices," the official said. "Japan's economic cooperation (in return for resolving the territorial row) does not lure Russia any more."

The Russian public is tending toward nationalism, preventing Putin from compromising on the row, the official said.

After the summit, Koizumi, Putin and other ministers of the two nations signed an agreement endorsing Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization and strengthening cooperation in information technology, criminal investigation and natural disaster prevention.

The two sides also agreed to reach an agreement "at the earliest possible date next year" on building a pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Pacific coast.

In a lecture at a Tokyo hotel earlier in the day, Putin stressed the need to strengthen economic ties, saying Japan's direct investment in Russia is still small compared with other nations.

"The amount of investment from Japan accounts for about 1 percent of all investment to Russia," Putin told about 400 business leaders from both sides. "It is clear that the current situation does not meet the economic strength of the two countries."

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The Japan Times

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