The leaders of Japan and Russia pledged Saturday to take concrete steps to resolve a territorial dispute, saying they wanted normal ties after a row that has endured for decades.
Russia and Japan have never signed a peace treaty to formally end World War II due to Tokyo's claims over four islands which Soviet troops seized in 1945 off Japan's northern island of Hokkaido.
Prime Minister Taro Aso, who took office in September, raised the island dispute in his first talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Lima.
"We have to define the border otherwise this problem will remain an element of destabilization in the region," Aso told Medvedev at the start of the meeting.
"I know you're a lawyer so you know about this. I would like to normalize Russian-Japanese relations."
Medvedev replied: "There are no unresolvable problems. You see the delegations here. Let them do something useful and make an effort."
While not revealing specifics, a Japanese government official said the two leaders ordered government officials "to begin concrete work."
"President Medvedev said he has no intention to leave the resolution of the issue to the next generation," the official said.
Medvedev said "although resistance by bureaucrats exists around the world, we can resolve the issue with the leaders' goodwill," according to the Japanese official.
The two countries agreed to launch "intensive, political dialogue on leaders' level" between the two countries, including a visit by Russia's powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to Japan early next year.
"I like such frank dialogue," Medvedev was quoted by the Japanese official as telling Aso. "I want to hold such dialogue quite often."
The dispute over the islands, whose Japanese residents were expelled from their homes, has clouded over relations between the two countries whose trade level remains low for neighbors.
Japan has also been alarmed by what it believes is a rise in intrusions by Russian forces into its air and maritime space.
In an effort to forge personal ties, Aso, a self-proclaimed comic book geek, presented Medvedev a remote-controlled doll of Japan's popular animation character Doraemon as he knew Medvedev's son is a big fan of the earless robot cat.
Aso and Medvedev also called on North Korea to clarify steps it would take to denuclearize under a six-nation aid-for-disarmament pact.
Both Russia, which traditionally maintains close ties with Pyongyang, and Japan are members of the six-way talks, which also involve the two Koreas, China and the United States.
Japan has tense ties with North Korea, in part due to the communist regime's kidnappings of Japanese civilians in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies.© Wire reports