Obama and Abe spoke by telephone February 9, discussing North Korea. Two days earlier the northern state had launched a long-range rocket, violating UN resolutions and alarming the international community.
With the move, Abe appears to be putting the resolution of a long-standing dispute between Russia and Japan, regarding four Pacific Ocean islands, Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets, ahead of the US president's request.
Russia calls the disputed islands the Southern Kurils, while Japan refers to them as the Northern Territories. Disagreement over the islands has prevented the two countries from signing a peace treaty after World War II. The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier pointed out that the islands, located in the Sea of Okhotsk, were given to the Soviet Union as part of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, a document signed in 1951 by Japan.
According to sources, resolving the issue is the primary purpose of Abe's forthcoming visit to Sochi for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and he "will push through with his trip to Russia in May whatever the United States says," claiming that it will contribute to stability in the East Asian region.