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Japan, Russia to send joint experts' group to disputed isles

Japan and Russia agreed Thursday to send an experts' group as
early as next month to the disputed islands controlled by Moscow but
claimed by Tokyo to realize joint economic activities on the isles as
a step to concluding a postwar peace treaty.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin
also agreed at their summit in Moscow to urge North Korea, which
shows signs of conducting another nuclear test and launching more
ballistic missiles, to exercise restraint and comply with U.N.
Security Council resolutions that ban such provocations.

The experts from the public and private sectors to be dispatched
to the disputed islands off Japan's northernmost main island of
Hokkaido will draw up a priority list of possible economic activities
to be done there, such as the cultivation of fish and sea urchins.

Japan and Russia still remain far apart in their stances on the
sovereignty of the islands and would need to work out ways to conduct
joint activities in a way that does not raise judicial problems.

"The peace treaty is a historical endeavor that would benefit
Japan and Russia," Abe said at a joint news conference. "I want to
increase and strengthen the trust between the (Japanese and Russian)
public" toward concluding a peace treaty.

Abe and Putin had agreed during a summit in December to start
joint activities on the isles, saying doing so could be an important
step toward concluding a post-World War II peace treaty, which Japan
says must include the resolution of the territorial row.

In their latest talks, the two leaders also discussed global
affairs, including growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Putin, speaking at the joint news conference after the summit,
said that military pressure should not be applied to North Korea, and
he called for resuming the six-party talks aimed at denuclearizing
the Korean Peninsula. The six-party talks, suspended since 2008,
involve North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United
States.

Abe, along with U.S. President Donald Trump, has been ratcheting
up pressure on North Korea by saying all options are on the table, in
an effort to get Pyongyang to rein in its aggressive nuclear and
missiles programs.

Abe called on Russia, a member of the U.N. Security Council, to
act constructively in dealing with North Korea, said a Japanese
official who was at the talks.

Abe and Putin met as Russia's ties with the United States,
Japan's key security ally, have deteriorated following the U.S.
cruise missile attack in Syria in response to the alleged use of
chemical weapons by the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,
which Moscow backs.

Abe said the challenges the world faces, including the Syrian
situation and the fight against terrorism, "cannot be solved without
Russia's constructive role."

On the Ukraine crisis, Abe said that the Minsk cease-fire is the
only solution to improve the situation and called on Russia and all
related parties to act in accordance with the agreement, the Japanese
official said.

Japan has imposed economic sanctions on Moscow, in line with
other Group of Seven peers, as retaliation for Russia's annexation of
the Crimea region in Ukraine.

Abe and Putin also discussed streamlining procedures for
visa-free trips to the disputed isles by Japanese who once lived
there for the purpose of visiting their ancestors' graves, and agreed
visits will be allowed by air from June.

That will help the former islanders, whose average age now tops
80, visit more frequently and quickly. Currently former residents can
only travel to the islands during the summer by chartered ship, with
sailings sometimes cancelled due to sea conditions.

The territorial row concerns disputed sovereignty over Etorofu,
Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, called the Northern
Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. They were
seized by the Soviet Union in the days soon after Japan's surrender
in World War II.

Japan and Russia compiled a joint statement Thursday which
revamps the road map toward realizing projects outlined in the
eight-point economic cooperation package that Abe proposed to Putin
last May to move forward the isles row talks.

Among the projects, the two countries said they will carry out
pilot programs in the southern Russia city of Voronezh, including
using cutting-edge Japanese traffic management technology there.

They will also promote joint research to treat children with
cancer and reduce newborn deaths, and plan to set up a preventive
health care center at a hospital in Khabarovsk in the Russian Far
East aimed at extending life expectancy, the statement said.

In a separate document, the two countries said they will promote
municipal-level exchanges, including between the western Japan
prefecture of Yamaguchi, Abe's home and the site of Abe-Putin summit
in December, and the local government of Krasnodar in southern Russia.

While they met for the 17th time Thursday, Abe and Putin agreed
to meet again on the sidelines of the summit of Group of 20 advanced
economies in Hamburg, Germany in July, and also in September when Abe
visits Russian Far East port city of Vladivostok for an economic
forum. (April 27)