TOKYO, March 8 (UPI) -- The prime ministers of Japan and Russia have expressed interest in reaching agreement in an ongoing territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands, officials say.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda Monday said he discussed the matter with newly elected Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin during a phone call, expressing his hopes that the two countries come to an agreement in the long-standing dispute over the islands off Hokkaido, Kyodo News reported.
Putin has previously expressed interest in finding a mutually beneficial resolution, saying Japan's right to the islands predates the 1956 Japan-Soviet joint declaration in which Moscow agreed to return two of the four islands to Japan.
The four islands -- Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan and the Habomai Islet group -- are known as the Northern Territories in Japan, and the Southern Kurils in Russia. Japan and Russia have disputed for years the rightful sovereignty of the islands, ever since the Soviet Union seized them after Japan's surrender in World War II.