"I have repeatedly delivered our stance to President Putin: at first, the territorial problem must be solved, and only after that a peace treaty can be signed," Abe said during electoral debates with former Japanese defense minister Shigeru Ishiba, aired by the NHK TV channel.
"I used to say this to him before the Russian president made his statement, and repeated it after he made the proposal, just in case," the Japanese premier went on.
He added that "many specialists and analysts believe that President Putin’s proposal demonstrates his determination to solve the peace treaty issue."
Ishiba, in his turn, expressed doubt that Putin’s proposal was made on impulse.
"This cannot be a spontaneous proposal, as he says. I’m sure that everything was planned beforehand," he said.
Putin suggested at the Eastern Economic Forum’s plenary session on September 12 that Moscow and Tokyo should make a peace treaty without any preconditions before the end of the year. He also said that the treaty may contain Moscow and Tokyo’s determination to settle territorial disputes. When asked to comment on the Russian president’s initiative, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official told TASS that Tokyo planned to hold peace treaty talks with Moscow once the territorial dispute was resolved and that position remained unchanged.
Since the mid-20th century, Russia and Japan have been holding consultations in order to clinch a peace treaty as a follow-up to World War II. The Kuril Islands issue remains the sticking point since after WWII the islands were handed over to the Soviet Union while Japan has laid claims to the four southern islands. In 1956, the two countries signed a common declaration on ending the state of war and restoring diplomatic and all other relations, however, a peace treaty has still not been reached. Moscow has stated many times that Russia’s sovereignty over the islands could not be questioned.