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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin, Koizumi Put Focus on Kurils

APPutin gesturing as Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, left, signs an energy agreement Monday in Tokyo.
TOKYO -- The leaders of Russia and Japan said on Monday that the settlement of a 60-year-old dispute that has kept their nations from formally ending their World War II hostilities required closer economic cooperation and patient trust-building as Tokyo backed Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization.

After the business-oriented summit, President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi acknowledged the dispute over the four frigid, sparsely populated islands that were seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of the war.

Koizumi said it would not be "easy" to resolve the disaccord but added that both nations "will further deepen our economic cooperation to strengthen mutual confidence, so that in the future we can sign a peace treaty."

"We have agreed to seek a resolution that can be acceptable to both countries," Koizumi said.

Putin, who warned before his trip to Japan that he would not discuss ceding control of the islands, pledged to take strong efforts toward the settlement.

"The absence of a peace treaty hampers the development of economic ties," Putin said.

"But we will be doing everything possible to solve this problem. We are fully determined to work in that direction to solve all the issues we face."

He added that Monday's talks showed that "both Russia and Japan share the desire" to achieve a compromise.

The tiny islets in the Kuril chain are known as the Northern Territories in Japan.

Meanwhile, Russia and Japan signed a program for joint actions to combat terrorism and several agreements on cooperation in energy, communications and other fields. Putin will return home with Japan's blessing for its WTO bid.

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. "Russia's accession into this organization will help strengthen trade ties with Japan and make them more stable," Putin said.

Putin also said Monday that Russia remains committed to building an oil pipeline to the Pacific Ocean that would deliver Siberian crude to Japan and other nations in the region.

"The construction of the oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean opens big prospects," Putin said in a speech before a forum of 500 Russian and Japanese businessmen.

For years, Japan and China have been struggling over alternate routes for the pipeline to ensure a steady supply.

The Russian Cabinet last year endorsed the Japanese-backed route to the Pacific coast, but then decided the destination for its first stage would be near the Chinese border.

That raised concerns in Japan that Russia could drag its feet on building the costly pipeline's extension to the Pacific Coast and end up shipping all crude to China.

In an apparent bid to assuage such fears, Russian and Japanese officials on Monday signed a program of energy cooperation that contained Russia's obligation to start building the pipeline's extension to the Pacific Ocean "as quickly as possible."

Koizumi said that building the pipeline was "mutually beneficial and very important."

Japan has mobilized roughly 7,500 police as hundreds of right-wing activists held protests in the capital to protest the Russian leader's visit.