Japan PM,Putin to Hold Talks in Russia

TOKYO (AP) -- Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe headed to Russia on Thursday for talks with President Vladimir Putin in hopes of making progress on joint economic projects on disputed islands as a step toward resolving the decades-old territorial row.

Abe said he hoped to talk "heart-to-heart" with Putin on Saturday to achieve progress on the island issue and eventually sign a peace treaty. Abe also plans to reaffirm Russia's cooperation in efforts to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.

Abe has been pushing for a way forward in the dispute over the Russian-held islands that Japan also claims. The row has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their WWII hostilities.

Japan is seeking the implementation of joint business projects on the Kuril Islands, such as aqua farming, while Russia wants to bring in more investments to its wider Far East. Still, progress has been slow and there is no immediate breakthrough expected on the islands' sovereignty issue.

Abe is also bringing a gift — a Japanese "Akita" puppy for Pyeongchang Olympic figure skating champion Alina Zagitova.

The trip would also allow Abe to take a short break from grilling by opposition lawmakers over a widening scandal involving his wife's role in a questionable land deal. Hundreds of pages of documents were released Wednesday, including sections indicating Akie Abe's interference in seeking a preferential treatment for her acquaintance's school plan.

The Moritomo scandal and another alleged cronyism case have stung Abe since last year and hurt his ratings.