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Japan, Russia hold talks, with eyes on China

Nov. 1, 2013 - 08:33AM   |  
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TOKYO — Japan and Russia began high-level talks in Tokyo on Friday that are expected to focus on security cooperation and a territorial dispute that has kept the nations from signing a peace treaty.

Preliminary meetings were held late Friday. The main discussions among Foreign Ministers Sergei Lavrov and Fumio Kishida and Defense Ministers Sergei Shoigu and Itsunori Onodera are scheduled for Saturday.

In the preliminary talks between the foreign ministers, Kishida expressed hope that territorial issues would be discussed. Kyodo News agency said the two ministers agreed to expand economic cooperation.

Separately, the defense ministers agreed to expand joint military exercises and other exchanges, public broadcaster NHK reported. Japan is seeking to broaden its defense ties, in addition to its key security alliance with the United States, in response to China’s growing military presence and threats from North Korea.

Russia has been expanding its trade ties in Asia and President Vladimir Putin has actively sought closer relations with Japan, partly as a counter to China’s rising military power.

It is unclear how much progress has been made toward a resolution of a dispute over four islands that were seized by Soviet forces at the end of World War II.

Russia’s Itar-Tass news agency downplayed the likelihood of any major breakthroughs, noting that the main issues in the dispute are being handled by deputy foreign ministers. The dispute has kept the two nations from signing a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities.

The two sides have also stepped up cooperation in developing energy resources, especially liquefied natural gas.

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