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Putin hosts Japanese PM for talks to resolve islands dispute

Russian president Vladimir Putin is hosting Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in a bid to end a dispute over four islands which has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty which formally ended the Second World War.

It is the leaders' third meeting in the past seven months after Mr Putin made a state visit to Japan in December and Mr Abe met the Russian premier in Russia's Far East in September.

Japan and Russia both claim four islands north of Japan's island of Hokkaido which came under Russian control at the end of the war.

The recent meetings are widely regarded as a sign that both Moscow and Tokyo are eager to settle the dispute over the Kuril islands and sign a peace treaty which the former Soviet Union and Japan never managed to negotiate.

The countries are also discussing the joint development of fisheries, tourism and other businesses and initiatives which might help bridge the gap.

Speaking at the start of the meeting at the Kremlin, Mr Abe told Mr Putin in televised remarks that he would like to discuss various issues including the peace treaty and thanked Russia for taking a "step forward in the Japanese-Russian relations".

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told reporters that "the territorial dispute needs to be settled somehow in a way that it will be suitable both for Moscow and Tokyo", but added that Russia and Japan would be working to boost economic co-operation no matter when the treaty is signed.

In Tokyo, Japanese officials said Mr Abe is also likely to discuss North Korea with Mr Putin.

At recent talks, Japan, the United States, South Korea and Australia agreed that China and Russia are crucial in pressuring North Korea to end its nuclear and missile programmes.

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