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Putin proposes peace treaty conclusion with Japan by year-end

Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures as delivers a speech during a plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, on Sept. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (Kyodo) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin made a surprise proposal to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, saying that their countries should conclude a post-World War II peace treaty "without any preconditions" by the end of the year.

"An idea has just come into my mind," Putin said at a regional economic forum in Vladivostok, which was also attended by Abe. "Let's conclude a peace treaty before the end of this year, without any preconditions."

Putin also said he "was not joking" about his proposal. But Abe, who was sitting on the same stage, did not provide any response during the forum.

The two countries have not signed a peace treaty due to a territorial dispute over a group of islands off Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido.

The Russian leader said he wanted to clinch the peace treaty first and then continue to discuss the territorial issue with Abe as "friends," during a question and answer session of the forum's plenary meeting.

Putin and Abe took up the sovereignty row during their 22nd bilateral meeting on Monday in the Russian Far East port city.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference that the Russian leader did not make any such proposal during the bilateral meeting with Abe.

The top government spokesman also said Japan will not change its position of seeking to resolve the issue of the islands' sovereignty, before concluding the peace treaty with Russia.

The islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai islet group, called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were seized by the Soviet Union after Japan surrendered in World War II in August 1945.

Japan and the Soviet Union signed a joint declaration aimed at ending wartime hostilities and restoring diplomatic ties in 1956. In the declaration, Moscow agreed to return Shikotan and the Habomais to Tokyo once a formal peace treaty was signed.

Tokyo has maintained its position that the disputed islets should be returned altogether.

In an attempt to break an impasse, the Abe administration has proposed bilateral economic cooperation in Russia's Far East region and joint economic activities on the Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands as a means to pave the way for settling the decades-long territorial dispute and eventually signing a peace treaty.

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