TOKYO, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Russian and Japanese officials Friday began discussing an end to a territorial dispute that has kept the two nations from signing a World War II peace treaty.
Discussions on four Russian-held, Japanese-claimed islands off Hokkaido laid the groundwork for a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin Feb. 8 in Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Kyodo reported.
"We would like to have candid consultation [with Russia] on important issues such as the settlement of the issue of the Northern Territories and conclusion of a peace treaty," Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama said at the Friday meeting, referring to the islands called the Northern Territories by Japan and the Kuril Islands by Russia.
Thel Islands were secured by the Soviet Union in 1945 as the war was ending and Japan still claims them.
Russian deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov said the countries were ready for consultations on bilateral relations and international issues, RIA Novosti reported.
"This is the first formal round on the peace treaty between Russia and Japan, which will focus on the historic aspect," Morgulov said.
Morgulov and Sugiyama also were expected to discuss economic cooperation, cultural exchanges and other matters, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said.