Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday and they agreed to advance negotiations for a postwar peace treaty between their countries.
Kishida told reporters he expressed his desire to develop Japan-Russia relations in a mutually beneficial manner, and that Putin said he wants to continue dialogue on a range of bilateral issues.
Japan and Russia have a decades-old territorial dispute over islands lying to the northeast of Hokkaido that has prevented them from signing a peace treaty since the end of World War II.
The dispute concerns the sovereignty of Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, which were seized by the Soviet Union following Tokyo's surrender in 1945.
Japan, which calls them the Northern Territories, argues the annexation was illegal and is demanding their return, while Russia says it was a legitimate outcome of the war. The islands are known as the Southern Kurils in Russia.
In their first conversation since Kishida took office this week, the leaders agreed to move forward with negotiations based on past agreements, including a 1956 joint declaration that states two of the four islands — Shikotan and the Habomai islet group — will be handed over to Japan following the conclusion of a peace treaty.
Putin also expressed his hope to hold talks with Kishida in person as soon as possible, according to Japan's Foreign Ministry. The call lasted for about 25 minutes.
Mentioning that Kishida is a former foreign minister, Putin was quoted by a ministry official as saying, "I am looking forward to working with Prime Minister Kishida, who knows bilateral relations well."
The leaders also discussed North Korea's nuclear and missile development programs, and Kishida asked for Russia's help in resolving the issue of the North's abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s, the ministry said.
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