N Korea to dominate Abe-Putin summit, putting isles row aside

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South Korean residents in Japan hold banners and raise clinched fists in front of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents during a rally against North Korea’s nuclear test, in Tokyo Tuesday. The banners read: “Give up nuclear weapons!”  Photo: AP


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Vladivostok on Thursday, where responses to North Korea tensions are likely to top the agenda, brushing aside a territorial row that is usually the central issue for the two leaders.

Abe hopes to win Moscow’s support in strengthening pressure on North Korea through stricter U.N. Security Council sanctions following Pyongyang’s nuclear test Sunday — its sixth and most powerful to date.

Through repeated telephone talks, Abe has agreed with U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae In to “maximize” pressure on North Korea.

“Japan will take the lead to strengthen pressure on North Korea with the international community,” Abe told a meeting of his Liberal Democratic Party on Tuesday.

But Russia, even as it condemned the nuclear test, has said more pressure on North Korea will risk aggravating the current situation.

“We urge all interested parties to promptly return to dialogue and negotiations, the only possible way for a comprehensive settlement of the Korean Peninsula problems, including the nuclear problem,” said a Russian Foreign Ministry statement released after the nuclear test.

Japanese and U.S. officials want a new Security Council resolution featuring additional sanctions against North Korea such as an oil embargo on the country, aiming to cut off oil supplies and curb North Korea’s trade revenue so as to prevent the country from pursuing its missile and nuclear ambitions.

Such a resolution would require consent by Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the Security Council.

One of the focal points of the upcoming summit is whether Abe can convince Putin to agree to harsher U.N. sanctions on North Korea and strictly implement existing ones, including a halt in accepting more North Korean laborers, another source of foreign currency for North Korea.

The upcoming Abe-Putin summit in the Russian Far East port city, to be held on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum, will be the third this year and 19th overall between the two leaders, according to Japanese officials.

They are also set to discuss how to advance joint economic activities on the Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido — an initiative the leaders agreed to launch at their summit in December 2016.

Japan expects that the activities will pave the way for a resolution of the territorial row over the islands and signing of a post-World War II peace treaty, while Russia seeks to attract Japanese investment on the islands.

As the two sides remain far apart in their stance on sovereignty over the islands, they would need to work out ways to conduct joint activities in a way that does not result in compromises by either side or raise judicial problems.

Moscow’s own plan to develop the islands is also a point of contention. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an order in August to create a special economic zone in a village on Shikotan, one of the disputed islands, and called for foreign investment.

In response to the development, which would apparently strengthen Russia’s control of the disputed islands, Japan’s top government spokesman Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “Japan will continue to appropriately respond by clearly conveying Japan’s stance to the Russian side.”

The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered in August 1945, ending World War II. They are called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan.

Abe and Putin will likely discuss economic cooperation under the eight-point cooperation package over areas such as energy, healthcare, human exchanges and urban development.

Some documents are set to be exchanged on the occasion of the Abe-Putin summit, but it is unlikely that such expanded business cooperation will lead to a resolution of the territorial dispute, political analysts say.

The leaders will also confirm progress on facilitating trips by former Japanese residents to the islands to visit their ancestors’ graves, in particular by allowing the use of chartered aircraft in addition to travel by sea.

Prior to the summit with Putin on Thursday, Abe will meet South Korean President Moon Jae In, who will also attend the economic forum, to coordinate responses to the growing threats by North Korea. In telephone talks Monday, they agreed to seek stronger U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

Abe will also hold separate talks Wednesday with Mongolian President Khaltmaa Battulga, who took office in July. Mongolia has diplomatic ties with North Korea.

Meanwhile, Japan’s lower house Foreign Affairs Committee adopted a resolution Tuesday condemning North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and calling for the government to increase pressure on Pyongyang.

The resolution, unanimously passed by the committee in the House of Representatives, protests the test as “a reckless act that absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

The resolution calls for the government to put stronger pressure on North Korea, including by pursuing the adoption of a new, stricter sanctions resolution at the U.N. Security Council.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono attended the committee session, pledging to “work in close coordination with both the United States and South Korea to urge Russia and China to properly play a role.”

Ahead of the resolution’s adoption, lawmakers from the ruling coalition asked about the government’s appeals to various countries about strengthening sanctions, while the opposition stressed the importance of working with countries that maintain diplomatic ties with Pyongyang.

The Diet is currently not in a regular sitting, with the last ordinary session having ended on June 18.