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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan Anxious for Siberian Energy

APPrime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and President Vladimir Putin discussing a wide-range of issues Friday after having dinner in Putin's personal quarters inside the Kremlin.
KHABAROVSK, Far East -- Hoping to open Siberia's vast oil reserves to energy-hungry Japan, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi wrapped up his four-day visit to Russia with a stopover Sunday in this frontier city on its far eastern fringe.

Greeted by ice sculptures and Christmas lights, Koizumi arrived before dawn on his official plane from Moscow, where he and President Vladimir Putin signed a pact outlining the need to expand ties and quickly resolve a territorial dispute that has kept the two countries from concluding a peace treaty after World War II.

In Moscow, Koizumi strongly urged Putin to push forward with projects to tap Siberia's energy resources and to build a pipeline from Siberia to the Pacific. Access to Russian oil and gas is increasingly important to resource-poor Japan, which relies heavily on oil from the Middle East.

"This region has great resources of energy," Koizumi said at a news conference here Sunday. "Japan must import most of its oil from abroad. There is much that we can do for each other."

Koizumi, who has been more open to improving trade and less insistent on resolving the border dispute than his predecessors, continued to pitch Japan's support for the pipeline -- and repeated his concerns over developments in neighboring North Korea -- in meetings with senior officials here.

North Korea figured strongly in the first item on Koizumi's agenda, a meeting with Konstantin Pulikovsky, Putin's representative in the Far East Federal District.

Pulikovsky has close ties to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and exchanged views with Koizumi on both the concerns over the North's nuclear development program and a deadlock between Tokyo and Pyongyang over the fate of several Japanese abducted by North Korean agents decades ago.

Japanese officials said Pulikovsky described Kim as a man who could be reasoned with, but who must be treated fairly.

Koizumi, the first Japanese prime minister to visit the Russian Far East, has denied rumors he wants to enlist Pulikovsky to act as a go-between with Kim to break the impasse.

Instead, he stressed before his arrival that the stopover en route to Tokyo was primarily intended to symbolize Japan's desire to expand trade with the region and Japan's interest in access to its oil reserves and natural gas, particularly in the area around the island of Sakhalin.

Japanese officials said Putin was wary about the financing of the multibillion-dollar megaprojects and the possible environmental problems the development might cause. Rival pipeline plans have also been put forward, including one involving China.

Still, local officials are eager to woo Japanese investment.

"The main thing is to create conditions for cooperation," Khabarovsk Governor Viktor Ivashov was quoted by Itar-Tass as telling reporters Saturday.

Ivashov, who hosted a lunch for Koizumi, said proposals to cooperate on projects involving ecology, the development of infrastructure and the construction of gas pipelines have been made to Tokyo.

 Before leaving Moscow, Koizumi called for the abolition of all nuclear weapons in an address to an international conference Saturday at a leading atomic energy research center.

"Nuclear energy was a technology that promised to open the future for humanity, but was instead first used as a weapon," he said in a speech at the Kurchatov Institute. "Our country is sharply aware of this as we have experienced that tragedy. Nuclear weapons must be abolished."

Japan, the only country ever attacked by atomic bombs, has vowed never to possess, build or allow them onto its soil. To help Russia dispose of its weapons-grade plutonium, Japan has allocated $100 million, Koizumi noted.