Japan's Shinzo Abe to discuss territorial dispute with Russian prime minister

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was expected to discuss energy and a decades-old territorial dispute over islands in the Kuril chain in talks Wednesday with his visiting Russian counterpart.

Energy issues so far have dominated Japanese officials' talks with the Russian delegation led by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov that arrived earlier this week.

Japan, which is almost entirely dependent on imports for its oil and gas, has been scrambling to secure access to Russia's reserves to reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

On Tuesday, Japanese ministers urged Russia to push ahead with a proposed trans-Siberian pipeline that will carry oil and gas to the Pacific coast to feed energy-hungry Japan. They said Tokyo was prepared to shoulder part of the construction cost.

Russia's decision to run the proposed pipeline close to its border with China has stoked Japanese fears that Moscow will favor Beijing and not extend the pipeline to the Pacific coast as quickly as planned.

The Japanese government said in a statement Wednesday that both sides agreed to work together in warnings about earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunami. They will also boost investments in each other, and cooperate in research in telecommunications, it said.

In a deal timed with the visit, Russian car maker OAO Severstal Avto and Japan's Isuzu Motors agreed to set up a joint production facility in Russia to make Isuzu trucks, at an annual capacity of 25,000 vehicles, Severstal Avto said.

The companies had been cooperating since last year with the assembly in Russia of Isuzu trucks. The final details of the venture will be agreed in the first half of this year. No financial details were disclosed, the AP reports.

Japanese officials also urged Russia to provide assurances it would supply Japan with energy from a major energy project in Siberia recently taken over by Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly, Gazprom.

The monopoly wrested control of the giant Sakhalin-2 project last year from an international consortium, consolidating the Kremlin's command over national energy resources.

Recent media reports have also said Japan is considering outsourcing to Russia the enrichment of uranium for Japanese nuclear power plants.

Japanese Trade Minister Akira Amari on Tuesday declined to comment on the reports. However, he added that if Tokyo and Moscow were to cooperate on enrichment, Russia would have to allow inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency to ensure that uranium from Japanese power plants was not used for weapons.

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