Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says Donald Trump encouraged him to improve relations with Vladimir Putin

Mr Abe also says he suggested the US and Russian leaders meet face to face

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The Independent US

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said Donald Trump encouraged him to improve his country's relations with Vladimir Putin during their recent meeting.

Mr Abe said the US President backed him in seeking closer ties with Russia to resolve a territorial dispute around the Kuril islands off Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's four main islands.

“President Trump understands Japan’s [policy] to promote dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin to resolve the territorial issue,” Mr Abe said in an interview after returning from the United States, where he held meetings with Mr Trump in Washington and played a round of golf with him in Florida.

Japan says the islands should be operated under a special legal status which does not raise sovereignty issues, while Russia, which governs the islands, wants them to be run under its law.

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Mr Trump has taken a softer approach towards Moscow than the Obama administration. 

In an interview with NHK public television, Mr Abe said he suggested to Mr Trump the problems of Syria, Ukraine and Iran could not be resolved unless the US and Russian leaders meet face to face. 

Mr Abe has held more than a dozen talks with Mr Putin and has described the Russian leader as "a man who keeps his promises."

"Surprisingly, President Trump is a good listener," Mr Abe added. "He is open to turning his ears to others, and he is friendly and open. I was able to discuss frankly where Japan is headed to." 

He also said Mr Trump's stance towards North Korea, which dominated their discussions after it launched a banned missile on Sunday, will be tougher.

"The Trump administration will pursue a diplomatic resolution, but will put all [military] options on the table in the meantime," he said.