Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe believes his three-hour talk with Russian President Vladimir Putin achieved a "breakthrough" in solving their dispute over the Kurile Islands.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry said the two leaders agreed to deal with the issue personally, and "cast aside old thinking" about the decades-old dispute over the islands that Russia seized at the end of World War II but Japan wants back.
"The prime minister said that today he could feel a breakthrough...in the currently stagnated negotiation," ministry press secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura said May 6 following Abe's first visit with the Russian leader since 2014 in Sochi.
"The prime minister said that Mr. Putin also shared...the same feeling." The leaders "agreed today that they themselves directly get involved in the negotiation," Kawamura said. "This is literally a new element."
Putin said at the meeting that "we have certain questions that demand special attention, maybe for this reason we must devote special attention to building relationships."
Before the meeting, the Kremlin had downplayed hopes of a breakthrough. Moscow has shown no sign it is willing to give up possession of the islands.