Russia's President Vladimir Putin visited Japan's Emperor Akihito on Tuesday before wrapping up a trip that focused on business issues and avoided the divisive territorial dispute between the two nations. Putin's brief stop at the Imperial Palace capped a three-day visit to Japan.
Putin and Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said after their talks Monday that the two nations need to bolster economic cooperation and boost mutual trust in order to pave the way for the settlement of a 60-year old dispute over four tiny, frigid Pacific islands which were seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of World War II.
The dispute of the four islands of the Kuril chain, which Japan calls the Northern Territories, has cast a shadow over the bilateral ties and prevented the two nations from signing a peace treaty to formally end their wartime hostilities.
With neither side ready for compromise in the dispute that has remained a hot political and nationalistic issue in both countries, Putin and Koizumi sought to assuage tensions and paint a positive picture of bilateral ties.
Koizumi said that the two countries "will further deepen our economic cooperation to strengthen mutual confidence, so that in the future we can sign a peace treaty."
Putin, who had warned before his trip to Japan that he wouldn't discuss ceding control of the islands, added a softer note Monday, pledging to take strong efforts toward the settlement.
"We will be doing everything possible to solve this problem," he said. "We are fully determined to work in that direction to solve all the issues we face."
Putin's visit focused heavily on the economy, and Japan signed a deal backing Russia's accession into the World Trade Organization.
Russia, which has to strike separate deals with WTO members as a condition for joining the 148-member global trade body, has launched economic and legal reforms in order to qualify for the membership. It has yet to negotiate a deal with the United States.
In an apparent effort to shift attention away from the divisive territorial problem, Russia and Japan on Monday also signed a program for joint actions to combat terrorism and several agreements on cooperation in energy, communications and other fields.
Putin also sought to assuage Japan's concerns that a prospective oil pipeline from eastern Siberia could end up pumping crude to China, saying that Moscow remains committed to extending it all the way to the Pacific coast, reports the AP. I.L.