Putin in Tokyo for oil, gas & territorial talks

Tokyo, Nov 20 | Updated: Nov 21 2005, 05:30am hrs
Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Tokyo on Sunday for three days of tense diplomacy aimed at putting aside a 60-year territorial row between the Pacific neighbours and opening the door for more trade.

Security was tightened across Tokyo and dozens of black vans zoomed around blaring ultra-nationalist slogans through loud-speakers and demanding the return of four Pacific islands seized by the Soviet army in the closing days of World War Two.

The dispute over the tiny wind-swept islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kuriles in Russia, has marred relations between Tokyo and Moscow for much of the 20th century and has prevented them from signing a peace treaty. Putin, travelling from South Korea where he attended the Apec summit, landed at 2:00 p.m. (0500 GMT) in Tokyos Haneda airport and was due to visit a Russian exhibition later in the day. He last visited Japan in 2000. On Monday, the Kremlin leader accompanied by more than 100 top Russian businessmen was due to attend an economic forum and meet Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi.

Moscow and Tokyo want to put economic incentives above politics and use the symbolism of this years 150th anniversary of their first trade treaty to open up more trade between the worlds No. 2 economy and the worlds No. 2 oil exporter.

Current trade turnover between them is about $10 billion, a tiny proportion of Japans trade with China or the United States.

Officials said that a lack of progress on the islands issue was likely to prevent Putin and Koizumi from signing a key political declaration emphasising their intention to intensify work to break the territorial deadlock. Given our different positions over the territorial issue, at the moment, it looks extremely difficult for us to come up with a new document, said a Japanese foreign ministry official.