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Japan's FM expected in Moscow ahead of Putin-Abe G8 talks

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Taro Aso, Japan's foreign minister, will arrive in Moscow for a one-day visit to discuss arrangements for a meeting between the two countries' leaders in June, and highlight economic, territorial and international issues.
MOSCOW, May 3 (RIA Novosti) - Taro Aso, Japan's foreign minister, will arrive in Moscow for a one-day visit to discuss arrangements for a meeting between the two countries' leaders in June, and highlight economic, territorial and international issues.

Aso will meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in preparation for a separate meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit in Germany in June, said Mikhail Kamynin, the Foreign Ministry spokesman.

Kamynin said the Japanese minister might raise the issue of the four Kuril Islands. Russia and Japan have contested the ownership of the islands for over 60 years, a dispute that has kept the countries from signing a formal peace treaty. Japan maintains that their seizure by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II was illegal.

The first visit of a Japanese foreign minister to Russia in the past three years will also highlight the results of Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's visit to Japan in February, which yielded five intergovernmental agreements, including for cooperation in energy, and high technologies in transportation, communications, information technologies, civilian nuclear research and space.

Energy supplies from Russia's Far East is a sensitive issue for Japan, which imports much of its energy and is concerned that Russian energy giant Gazprom, which gained control over the vast $20 billion gas project Sakhalin II late last year, could reroute liquefied natural gas supplies currently destined for Japan. But Russia has reaffirmed Moscow's commitment to the agreed format of the project.

The two countries also seek partnership in nuclear fuel supplies. Nuclear power makes up 30% of Japan's energy, and the country intends to bring the figure to 40% by 2030, making nuclear power the key energy source. Russia is one of the world's leading suppliers of uranium enrichment services and has the capability to cover 30% of Japan's needs in uranium products.

Russian nuclear chief Sergei Kiriyenko met with Japan's senior nuclear officials and the foreign minister in early April to discuss a bilateral agreement that will open the way for direct nuclear contracts between Russian and Japanese companies. Russia presently has to re-export uranium products to Japan via the United States, France and Britain.

Japan is now ranked among Russia's 10 leading investors, with accrued investment last year hitting $2.5 billion, a five-fold increase on 2005.

Russian Transportation Minister Igor Levitin has invited Japanese business to invest in a $90 billion project to build a tunnel to link Russia's Far East island of Sakhalin to mainland Russia, and Japan has shown interest in helping renovate Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport.

Economic interaction has also expanded into the automotive industry. Japan's Nissan and Toyota car makers are planning to open plants in Russia, while Russian car manufacturer Severstal Avto and one of Japan's leading truck producers, Isuzu, signed an agreement in February to produce trucks in Russia.

As for international cooperation, the Japanese foreign minister will discuss cooperation in efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program and observe the non-proliferation regime as part of the ongoing six-nation talks. Iran's nuclear program is also likely to be on the agenda.

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