Putin to visit Japan

MIYAZAKI (JAPAN), JULY 12. Japan and Russia agreed today that the Russian President, Mr. Vladimir Putin, will make an official visit to Japan in early September to seek progress towards signing a peace treaty between the two former foes.

The Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Igor Ivanov told his Japanese counterpart, Mr. Yohei Kono, that Mr. Putin would come to Tokyo in early September, before the United Nations millennium summit that begins on September 6 in New York, a Japanese official said.

The two are in this southern Japanese city to attend a two-day Group of Eight (G8) Foreign Ministers meeting that got underway today.

The agreement on the dates spells relief for Tokyo, which had sought an early visit by Mr. Putin even before he had taken office in a bid to jump-start the stalled peace treaty talks.

Japan had initially wanted Mr. Putin to visit immediately after the July 21-23 summit of G8 leaders, but the two sides agreed in April that the visit would be in late August.

Moscow later said it favoured a visit in early September. But the deal on the visit by no means guarantees that the talks will make progress towards the schedule of concluding by the end of this year a peace treaty that would formally end World War II hostilities between the two nations.

A thorny territorial row has overshadowed the relationship and has stood in the way of a peace treaty as the two sides differ over how to resolve the conflict.

The dispute involves the ownership of four small North Pacific islands seized by Soviet troops in 1945. Japan refers to the islands as the Northern Territories while Russia calls them the Southern Kuriles.

Meanwhile, the G8 foreign ministers knuckled down today to two days of talks covering a catalogue of global headaches from small arms to war diamonds, from the Korean peninsula to the Balkans.

Meeting in a vast resort complex that is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the G8 was expected to endorse a comprehensive Japanese plan aimed at preventing conflicts rather than being forced to react to them once they have erupted.

- Reuters