Campaign Coverage 2020

New Japanese PM Suga urges Putin to resolve island dispute



TOKYO (AP) — Newly elected Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday that he wants to settle their territorial dispute and sign a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities.

Suga took office two weeks ago, replacing Shinzo Abe who stepped down due to poor health. Abe, during his nearly eight years in office, put a great deal of time and effort into improving ties with Russia in hopes of settling the territorial dispute, but with little progress.

The two countries both claim a group of islands seized by the former Soviet Union in the final days of the war, preventing them from signing a peace treaty. The islands, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Kurils in Russia, are off the northern coast of Japan's Hokkaido.

“I told (Putin) that I hope to develop Japan-Russia relations holistically, including the signing of a peace treaty. I said we should not leave the territorial problem to the next generations and put an end to it ourselves,” Suga told reporters after the telephone talks. “I will firmly tackle the problem with President Putin.”

Suga said he is confident he and Putin can develop a positive relationship in which they can frankly exchange views.

Putin said he hopes to maintain a dialogue to resolve any existing problems between the two countries, Suga said.

Settling the island dispute with Russia was one of Abe's diplomatic goals. He started joint economic projects on the Russian-held disputed islands. Russia, however, has stepped up its military presence on the islands, and held troop exercises just hours before Tuesday's talks.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said Japan protested to Russia about the military exercise, saying it was unacceptable.

Suga has had a series of phone talks with global leaders including Chinese President Xi Jinping, U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

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