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Putin hopes trade can overcome Kurils dispute with Japan


TOKYO, Nov 20 (AFP): Russian President Vladimir Putin opened a visit to Japan today hoping he can secure new business even though the two countries refuse to compromise on a territorial dispute that has hampered ties for 60 years.
Putin brought a delegation of 100 business leaders for his first trip to Japan in five years but few expect any breakthrough on the Kuril islands, four islets off Japan's northern coast seized by Moscow at the end of World War II.
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has already expressed doubts that any agreement will come out of his summit with Putin Monday, saying there was a "deep gulf" in views between the countries over the islands.
But Russia sorely needs investment from the world's second-largest economy, leading to hopes that economic relations could help Tokyo and Moscow overcome the protracted island dispute.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso, meeting his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov last week at an Asia-Pacific meeting in South Korea, called on the two countries to look at joint economic projects for the islands.
Russia also wants Japan to pay half of the projected 16 billion-dollar price tag on an oil pipeline linking Siberian reserves to the Pacific, but Tokyo wants guarantees first that Japan-not growing rival China-will be the priority recipient.