Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday that his country is ready to continue talks with Japan toward a postwar peace treaty despite speculation in Moscow that last year’s constitutional amendment would prohibit the country from committing to negotiations to resolve a territorial dispute with Tokyo.

“Both Russia and Japan share the strategic interest in concluding a peace treaty,” Putin said in response to a question from Kyodo News during an online news conference involving major press agencies around the world.

“We are ready to continue negotiations,” he said.

A longstanding territorial dispute over islands off Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido has prevented the two countries from concluding a peace treaty after World War II.

Russia’s constitutional amendment, which took effect in July last year, bars the country from transferring territory to any foreign power. Putin said he does not think Moscow should suspend talks with Japan, although he will take the amendment into account.

It is the first time since the constitutional change for the Russian leader to say the bilateral talks should go on.

Russia wants Japan to recognize that the islands — called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan — were legitimately acquired following Tokyo’s 1945 surrender in World War II. Japan, however, has taken the view that the seizure was illegal.

In 2018, then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin agreed to step up peace treaty negotiations based on a 1956 joint declaration between Japan and the former Soviet Union. The document states that of the group of four islands, the smaller two — Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — will be handed over to Japan following the conclusion of a peace treaty.

The two larger of the disputed islands are Etorofu and Kunashiri.

During phone talks shortly after he took office in September last year, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told Putin he was eager to resolve the territorial dispute.

Speaking to reporters after the conversation, Suga said he told Putin that he wanted to develop Japan-Russia relations and that the row over the sovereignty of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido “should not be left for later generations to deal with.”

Putin said he was ready to continue dialogue on all bilateral issues and the two agreed to meet in person soon to hold “frank discussions,” according to Suga.

Suga and Putin have yet to meet in person.

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