Departing Rome, following in-depth talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Japanese FM Taro Kono told reporters that the two nations were on the path to a bilateral treaty to formalize on paper a diplomatic norm that has existed for decades, according to a report by the Japan Times.
While avoiding particulars, Kono nonetheless pointed out that the leaders of two countries have recently agreed to accelerate negotiations, reestablishing the use of a 1956 joint declaration suggesting the return of Shikotan and the Habomai group of islets off Hokkaido to Japanese control.
The dispute focuses on the islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu and Shikotan, as well as the Habomai group, called in Japan the Northern Territories. Following Japan's 1945 surrender, the former Soviet Union seized the maritime territories, referring to the archipelago as the Southern Kurils.
Tokyo has long insisted that the "attribution of the four islands" must be decided prior to signing a peace declaration, although Japanese PM Shinzo Abe has recently offered that the return of Shikotan and the Habomai islet group may be enough, indicating that the two nations could amicably split the archipelago.
Abe is expect to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of next week's G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.