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Japan, Russia leaders seek dialogue after row

Japan and Russia agreed today to work to improve ties after a sudden flare up of long simmering tension over islands both claim.

world Updated: Nov 13, 2010 16:01 IST

Japan and Russia agreed on Saturday to work to improve ties after a sudden flare up of long simmering tension over islands both claim.

The chill followed this month's visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to an island chain north of Japan, the first by a Kremlin leader.

"I hope that today's meeting will help the start of a comprehensive dialogue on the basis of mutual trust," Medvedev told Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of a meeting of Asia-Pacific Economic Community (APEC) leaders in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.

Kan echoed the sentiment. "I also hope that today's meeting will help start a comprehensive dialogue based on mutual trust," he said.

The dispute had added to domestic problems for Kan, who is grappling with a divided parliament and under fire for what critics say was his mishandling of a separate territorial row with China, helping push his support rating to its lowest since he took office five months ago.

Earlier in the day, Japan's Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov agreed to move forward with ties, a Japan foreign ministry official said.

"They agreed that advancing cooperation between the two important neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region will be strategically beneficial for both Japan and Russia," the official told a news conference.

"Agreement has been reached that the two nations will take every opportunity to improve bilateral ties," he said.

It was the first substantive contact since Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's visited the disputed island.

Maehara and Lavrov had a "sincere and candid exchange of views" on the status of the islands, the Japanese official said, without elaboration.

The Soviet Union occupied the four islands, known as the Norther Territories in Japan and the Souther Kuriles in Russia, at the end of World War Two and the territorial row has weighed on bilateral relations ever since, precluding a formal peace treaty.