TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Russian President Vladimir Putin that settling the territorial issues between the two countries must come before signing a peace treaty, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo on Friday.
In his regular post-cabinet meeting press conference, Suga said, "It is our country's basic position that we settle the question of the possession of the four Northern Islands and then sign a treaty."
He also said that Abe told Putin of Tokyo's position and that Moscow "is aware" of it.
Suga's comments rebuffed Putin's proposal of concluding an "unconditional peace treaty" that would formally end World War II hostilities between the countries. The Russian leader reiterated his position at a conference in the Black Sea city of Sochi on Thursday, following his direct proposal to Abe last month, when the two sat next to each other at an economic forum in Vladivostok.
The Northern Territories consist of four islands -- Habomai, Shikotan, Kunashiri and Etorofu -- located off the northeast coast of Hokkaido. In the last days of World War II, the islands' Japanese residents were deported after the Soviet Union tore up a Neutrality Pact with Japan and occupied the islands.
Asked about Putin's proposal, Suga said he believed it expressed the president's "strong hope of developing Japan-Russia relations."
Speaking at a forum in Sochi on Thursday, Putin pointed out that Russia and China had signed a Treaty of Friendship before reaching a border agreement later. "The territorial discussions will continue. It is not something we will shelve or refuse later," he insisted, suggesting a similar formula with Japan.
Japan and Russia are preparing for their leaders to meet twice within the year. Abe said in a September speech that he considers the summits with Putin coming after November "very important."