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Japanese PM Seeks Island Deal With Russia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev
LIMA (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday he would like to see an end to a territorial dispute that has soured bilateral ties since the end of World War II.

For over 60 years, Moscow has been reluctant even to discuss Japan's demands that Russia return four tiny disputed Pacific Ocean islands seized by the Red Army in the final days of the war.

The dispute over the territories, known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has prevented the two states from signing a formal peace treaty since the war ended.

"The problem remains an element which destabilizes the situation in the region," Aso told Medvedev at the start of their meeting on the fringes of the APEC Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the Peruvian capital, Lima.

Aso, a fan of popular culture, also tried to woo Medvedev by giving him a toy of the famed Japanese cartoon cat Doraemon. Medvedev's wife suggested earlier this year that a joint Russian/Japanese film be made with Doraemon and Russian folklore cat Dorofei, which her family's cat is named after.

Promises to keep the disputed islands Russian have often been used by the Kremlin's leaders to revive a national spirit that was damaged badly by defeat in the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Many abroad hope that Medvedev, a 43-year-old former corporate lawyer who took office in May, will be more pragmatic and less influenced by history when tackling major international issues.

"You are a lawyer, you should understand the problem better," Aso told Medvedev.

Medvedev, who rules Russia in tandem with his influential predecessor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, has pledged to carry on his mentor's policy of reviving Russia as a great state. But his reply to Aso left doors open for compromise.

"There are no problems which cannot be solved," a smiling Medvedev told Aso. "We have impressive delegations here, let them do something useful."