The United States recognizes Russian-held islands off Japan's northernmost main island as belonging to Japan, a U.S. official said Wednesday, speaking in connection with Russian military drills conducted in the disputed territory earlier this week.

"The United States recognizes Japanese sovereignty over these islands," Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters, reiterating the U.S. position on the territorial dispute between Tokyo and Moscow.

Harf did not comment directly on Russia's latest military exercises on Kunashiri and Etorofu islands — part of what Tokyo calls the Northern Territories — off Hokkaido. Russia refers to the islands as the Southern Kurils.