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Putin in Japan for talks

TOKYO, May 12 –  Russia\’s Premier Vladimir Putin kicked off a visit to Japan on Tuesday expected to lead to several business deals and a pact on nuclear power cooperation, despite a lingering territorial dispute.

The former Russian president, travelling with a high-powered delegation, was in Tokyo to meet corporate chiefs, regional governors, two former premiers and the opposition leader before holding talks with his counterpart Taro Aso.

Russian officials warned before the visit that Tokyo should not expect a breakthrough in a territorial dispute that has plagued relations since World War II and has prevented the neighbours from signing a peace treaty.

Putin\’s deputy chief of staff, Yury Ushakov, cautioned against "inflated expectations" in the dispute over what Japan calls the Northern Territories and Russia refers to as the Southern Kurils.

Moscow believes the historic dispute should not get in the way of stronger economic relations, including the transfer of Japanese cutting edge technology to Russia and the flow of Russian oil to energy-poor Japan.

Putin told a meeting of regional governors from both countries Tuesday that "regional cooperation is an important factor which can stimulate economic development, help overcome the consequences of the global economic crisis".

Closer ties "will help to create a favourable atmosphere for joint projects… (and) create new jobs, which is especially important now".

Japan and Russia were scheduled to sign several official agreements, including a pact to promote the non-military use of nuclear power which would pave the way for Japan to export nuclear power plant technology to Russia and for Russia to sell more nuclear fuel to Japan.

They were also due to sign commercial deals, including on cooperation in banking and in hydro and wind-power plants, Russian officials said.

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The Nikkei reported that both countries were expected to sign a deal as early as Tuesday to jointly develop two major oil fields, holding up to several hundred million barrels, in the central Irkutsk region of Eastern Siberia.

The government-run Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corp. was expected to take a 49 percent stake, while Russia\’s Irkutsk Oil Co. would take the remainder, the Nikkei reported, citing unnamed sources.

On a lighter note, Putin, a judo black belt, was to unveil a Japanese language version of his book on the sport alongside Yasuhiro Yamashita, a world judo champion with whom Putin has also recorded a video manual.

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