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Putin, Abe Vow To Seek WWII Treaty, Solution To Island Dispute

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to accelerate efforts to seek a World War II peace treaty and to reach an agreement over a disputed island chain.

"We believe it is important to patiently continue the search for a solution that would satisfy the interests of Russia and Japan and that would be accepted by the nations of both countries," Putin told a news conference following talks between the leaders in Moscow on May 26.

"Solving it is not easy, but we would like to end it within the lifetime of our generation," Abe said of the dispute over the island chain, which Tokyo calls the Northern Territories and Moscow calls the Southern Kuriles.

The Soviet Union occupied the islands at the end of World War II, forcing 17,000 Japanese inhabitants to leave, and the issue has spoiled relations between the two regional powers ever since.

Because of the dispute, a formal WWII peace treaty has yet to be signed between the two sides.

The two countries began discussing the island dispute in 1956. Abe's late father, Shintaro Abe -- as a foreign minister -- at one time led the negotiations with Russia but died in 1991 without an agreement.

Japan has pushed to establish joint business projects on the islands as a way to gain momentum to resolve the dispute.

"The Japanese and the Russians will be able to reap the fruits of the joint work on the islands," Abe said. "If we cooperate, we can achieve great results that bring mutual benefit."

The two leaders agreed in December 2016 to start consultations on joint projects on the islands, but little progress has been made, although an agreement last June allowed Japanese citizens travel to the islands to pay their respects at family graves.

Putin said Moscow would "assist" in allowing Japanese citizens visit the islands -- a vow for which Abe said Tokyo was “thankful.”

Putin and Abe also attended the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2018 on May 25 and held talks with members of the Russian-Japanese business council as the two leaders looked for ways to boost economic cooperation.

The Kremlin said representatives of the two countries signed 11 bilateral agreements on the sidelines of the Putin-Abe meeting.

Officials said the leaders also discussed the North Korea crisis, with Putin calling on countries to show "restraint in order not to allow a new spike in confrontation and to keep the situation in the political and diplomatic field."

"Most important is for North Korea to carry out full and irreversible denuclearization," Abe said.

The comments come as uncertainty reigns over a potential summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump canceled a planned June 12 meeting but later suggested the summit could still take place, either at that date or later.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Interfax