updated 11/21/2005 12:28:33 PM ET 2005-11-21T17:28:33

Russian President Vladimir Putin called for stronger economic ties with Japan on Monday and said his country was committed to a pipeline that will supply crude oil to Japan and other countries in east Asia.

"The construction of the oil pipeline, leading from eastern Siberia to the Pacific Ocean, opens big prospects," Putin said at a meeting of 500 Russian and Japanese business leaders in Tokyo.

"We are going to lead it to the Pacific coast for bringing energy resources to the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan," he said, adding that the project would significantly strengthen the energy infrastructure of the entire region.

Putin, in Tokyo for a three-day visit that included a summit Monday afternoon with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, also encouraged Japanese companies to invest more in Russia, noting that Japan accounts for only 1 percent of accumulated foreign investment. He was also expected to win Japanese backing for Russia's bid to enter the World Trade Organization.

Russia, which has to strike separate deals with WTO members as a condition for joining the 148-member global trade body, has launched economic and legal reforms in order to qualify for the membership. It has yet to negotiate a deal with the United States.

Japanese business leaders urged Russia to push ahead with promised economic and financial reforms.

"We would like to see Russia clearly indicate that the overall environment for investment has improved," said Toru Tsuji, a leader of the Japan-Russia Business Corporation at Japan's biggest business lobby, Keidanren.

Regarding oil, Tokyo has voiced a strong interest in a pipeline that would pump the oil to Russia's Pacific coast for export to Japan, while China, also avidly seeking Russian oil to drive its booming economy, has pushed for an alternate route.

The heads of Russia's natural gas monopoly, OAO Gazprom, and the state oil company Rosneft accompanied Putin on his Japan tour and said they hoped to soon see oil flowing to the Pacific region.

"We hope that by 2008, the first segment of the pipeline, with a capacity of 30 million tons (of crude oil), will become operational," Rosneft CEO Serguei Bogdanchikov said, adding that his company would contribute two-thirds of that capacity (20 million tons) from three oil fields in Eastern Siberia.

"By 2015, Russia will provide 50 million tons of hydrocarbon fuel to the Pacific market," Bogdanchikov added.

Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller said his company was also considering pipelines to provide gas to countries in the Pacific region.

Business has been high on the agenda during Putin's visit to Japan, with Tokyo and Moscow likely to avoid discussion of a 60-year territorial dispute over four tiny, sparsely populated islands that has marred bilateral ties.

Control over the islands, surrounded by rich fishing grounds and also speculated to have natural gas deposits, is a hot political and nationalistic issue on both sides.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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