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Putin, Abe hold talks on Japan-Russia territorial dispute

NAGATO, Japan — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin spent much of their first round of talks Thursday at a hot springs resort in western Japan discussing a territorial dispute that has divided their countries for 70 years.

For Putin, the summit meeting in Nagato city marks his first official visit to a G-7 country since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

Abe invited Putin even though the G-7 nations, including Japan, still have sanctions on Russia. The talks will move to Tokyo on Friday.

Abe said the two leaders talked for three hours, spending about half of the time on the dispute over four islands seized by the former Soviet Union in the closing days of World War II. A major breakthrough is seen as unlikely.


The disagreement over the four southern Kuril islands, which Japan calls the Northern Territories, has kept the two countries from signing a peace agreement.

‘‘We had in-depth discussions on a peace treaty,’’ Abe told reporters.

He said the two leaders also discussed possible joint economic projects on the disputed islands. Abe hopes such cooperation would bolster ties and help solve the territorial dispute if they are operated under a special legal status that does not raise sovereignty issues. Russia, however, wants them to be run under its law.

Putin expressed concern about the deployment of US missile defense systems in Japan, calling them an overreaction to North Korea’s missile program, Japanese media reported. Abe assured him that they are limited to self-defense and do not threaten neighboring countries, while stressing the importance of discussing defense issues amid growing security concerns in the region, they said.

To that end, the two leaders agreed to resume ‘‘2+2’’ talks among the countries’ foreign and defense ministers, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. The minister, who is accompanying Putin, attended the first and last ‘‘2+2’’ meeting three years ago.


Abe did not say if there was any progress on the territorial issue. The two leaders will release a joint statement after the end of the talks Friday, he said.