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Japan-Russia Talks Begin Friday - 2003-01-09

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is holding talks in Moscow, in hopes of securing Russia's help in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis. The Korea issue is expected to be at the center of Mr. Koizumi's talks Friday with President Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Koizumi says he believes Russia shares Japan's views that easing tensions on the Korean Peninsula is, in his words, absolutely essential.

In an interview with the Russian daily, Izvestia, Mr. Koizumi said he hopes Russia can play a key role in regulating the situation.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula rose after the communist North began taking steps to revive its nuclear program, and expelled international nuclear inspectors.

Last week, senior Russian officials hosted South Korean diplomats for similar talks aimed at defusing the crisis.

Mr. Koizumi and Mr. Putin have each met with North Korea's reclusive leader, Kim Jong Il, in the past few months.

Aside from Korea, the two leaders are expected to discuss bilateral issues, including their long-standing territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands.

The standoff has marred relations between Moscow and Tokyo, and stymied much needed Japanese trade and investment in Russia's less-developed Far East.

Russia and Japan are the only members of the Group of Eight industrialized nations between whom there are unsettled territorial issues. In the Izvestia interview, Mr. Koizumi characterized the gap as extremely regrettable.

Russian news agencies quote both leaders in a series of articles as indicating they will sign an action plan following their talks, aimed at improving Japanese-Russian relations in the areas of economy and trade.

Prime Minister Koizumi and President Putin also are likely to discuss the fight against international terrorism, as well as disarmament issues and Iraq.

Mr. Koizumi is only the third Japanese prime minister ever to visit Russia.