October 7, 2014 / 10:59 AM / in 3 years

Japan, Russia leaders to meet on APEC sidelines in November

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Russian President Vladmir Putin on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Beijing in November, the two leaders decided on Tuesday, a Japanese government official said.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addresses a news conference following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin January 10, 2007. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The decision comes as Abe tries to walk a fine line between joining the West in sanctions over Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and forging closer economic and energy ties after five summits with Putin last year.

During a 10-minute phone conversation the two leaders also discussed Japan-Russia ties and Abe urged Russia to fulfil its role in stabilizing the situation in Ukraine, Noriaki Ikeda, of Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Reuters.

“During the phone call the two sides agreed to make arrangements for a summit on the sidelines of APEC,” Ikeda said.

In a coordinated move with Western nations, Japan has imposed sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of the Crimea peninsula in March and its involvement in a pro-Russian rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow denies sending troops and arms to the area.

However, Tokyo’s measures against Russia have been lighter than those of the United States or the European Union, and Abe has continued to try to court Moscow despite ties already being strained by a long-running territorial dispute.

Tokyo has also repeated it would maintain its policy of dialogue with Moscow and seek a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the Ukraine conflict.

Putin and Abe, who are said to be on a first-name basis, last held bilateral talks in February in Sochi, where Abe travelled to attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics.

Putin had planned a return visit to Tokyo for November, but ties were strained after Japan imposed sanctions such as visa curbs, and Russia responded with counter-measures and a visit in September to a disputed island by an aide to Putin.

Japan has also been trying to speed up talks over a chain of four islands east of Hokkaido that Moscow took days before Japan surrendered in World War Two, forcing 17,000 Japanese to leave.

The decision to hold talks with Putin is part of a broader diplomatic push by Abe.

He has also tried to arrange meetings with South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who have not met him since he swept to power in late 2012.

The two countries have been angered by territorial disputes with Japan and Abe’s approach to Japan’s wartime past.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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