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No Japan-Russia peace treaty move

The foreign ministers of Japan and Russia have agreed to strengthen economic and security co-operation but made no progress on resolving a long-standing territorial dispute that has kept the two nations from concluding a peace treaty.

Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the two countries need to address the row over islands off north-eastern Japan in a calm manner. Mr Gemba said resolving the dispute and forging a peace treaty officially ending their hostilities in the Second World War is "more necessary than ever".

Both men sought to downplay the dispute and focus on ways the two nations could expand their ties.

"As the security situation in the Asia-Pacific undergoes major changes, the Japan-Russia relationship has taken on new importance," Gemba said at a joint news conference following what he called a "fruitful" two-hour meeting.

"We reaffirmed that we want to strengthen our co-operation in security, defence and economic matters, particularly energy modernisation," he added.

Lavrov welcomed the increased trade between the two nations, which grew last year to 2.45 trillion yen (£19 billion).

"We want our international cooperation to expand," Mr Lavrov said.

The two sides signed an agreement to simplify visa procedures to boost visitors and business interaction, particularly from Japan to Russia.

Ties between Japan and Russia soured in late 2010 when Dmitry Medvedev became the first Russian president to visit the disputed islands, called the southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan. They were seized by Soviet troops in the closing days of the Second World War, but Japan says they are part of its territory.

The islands are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and are believed to have oil, natural gas and mineral deposits.

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