Russia to cooperate with Japan on disputed islands issue

Moscow is ready to work with Tokyo on the issue of four Russian-held islands claimed by Japan.

Russia captured the four islands at the southern end of the Kuril chain - known as the Northern Territories in Japan - from Japan during the closing days of World War II.

Tokyo has demanded that Moscow cede all four islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds. The dispute has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities.

"This situation arose as a result of World War II and has been formalized in international law, in international documents," Putin said. "But we understand the motives of our Japanese partners' behavior, we would like to get rid of all the thorns of the past and together with Japan we are looking for a solution to this issue."

Putin noted that "there has been less rhetoric on this issue and the discussion has become more businesslike and deep. We hail that."

A day earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov indicated that Moscow is not ready to give up the disputed territories.

"A solution is not foreseen yet, but we are ready to look for a solution that would be mutually accepted and answer the interests of the people of Russia and Japan and would be founded on realities - the inviolability of the outcome of World War II," Lavrov said, according the foreign ministry's Web site.

Lavrov spoke after visiting Kunashiri and Shikotan islands, two of the four disputed islands, in the first trip by a Russian foreign minister to the island grouping. He visited the islands to inspect progress in development programs in the Russian Far East.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Putin are due to meet on the sidelines of a summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Germany this week, and Putin said he looked forward to discussing the issue with his counterpart.

"We are full of determination to work together on this," Putin said.