MOSCOW -- Russian President Vladimir Putin said the "tempo has been lost" toward a peace treaty with Japan as the specter of American troops interfered with efforts to resolve a territorial dispute, Russia's Kommersant reported Friday.
Putin made the remarks on a treaty to formally end World War II-era hostilities in a private meeting with business leaders Thursday, the paper said.
He said talks were impeded by the prospect that American forces could be stationed on the four southernmost Kuril Islands -- which Russia has administered since the end of the war, but Japan claims as its own -- should some of them be handed back to Japan as has been discussed.
"Japan would first have to withdraw" from its security cooperation pact with the U.S., Putin continued. He said that pact meant that there was no way to actually stop American forces from setting foot on the islands, despite having received reassurances from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that no U.S. military base would be established there if control were returned to Tokyo.
Putin said he could not ignore the will of local residents, of which 99% opposed handing the islands to Japan, according to informal polling. He said he did not intend to break off negotiations but cited a need for "a short rest," calling for cool-headed discussion.