Last week The New York Times carried a short Reuters report headlined "Russia's Putin says his Japan peace treaty proposal was no joke." While most Western readers may not know the significance of the issue at hand, Tokyo has been making a big fuss out of this surprising news.

For readers who do not have enough background information about the Northern Territories issue between Japan and the Soviet Union/Russia, the following is what happened on Sept. 12 at the 4th Eastern Economic Forum, which Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended, in the Russian Far Eastern city of Vladivostok.

During the forum's questions and answers session, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, "An idea has just come into my head. Let's conclude a peace treaty before the end of this year, without any preconditions." He later stated that he was not joking, implying that the remaining issues could be resolved after Japan and Russia sign a peace treaty.