VLADIVOSTOK, Russia (AFP) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested Wednesday that Russia and Japan sign a peace treaty this year, ending World War II hostilities "without any preconditions" as a territorial dispute has led to decades of deadlock.
The dispute between Russia and Japan centers on four islands in the strategically-located Kuril chain which the Soviet Union occupied at the end of war in 1945 but are claimed by Japan.
It has kept the two countries from signing a peace accord that would formally end their wartime hostilities.
"We have been trying to solve the territorial dispute for 70 years. We've been holding talks for 70 years," Putin said at an economic forum in the far eastern Russian city of Vladivostok attended by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
"Shinzo said: 'let's change our approaches.' Let's! Let's conclude a peace agreement, not now but by year's end without any preconditions," Putin said, prompting the audience to break into applause.
Putin's sudden proposal came just two days after he said that the two countries' dispute was unlikely to be settled soon.
"It is not a joke," Putin added, suggesting the two countries commit to solving the territorial dispute in the text of the peace deal.
Putin said the conclusion of such a deal would create a better atmosphere and allow Russia and Japan to "continue to solve all outstanding issues like friends."
"It seems to me that this would facilitate the solution of all problems which we have not been able to solve during the past 70 years."
The Japanese prime minister said the two countries "have a duty to future generations."
"Let us walk together mindful of the questions, 'If we don't do it now, then when?' And 'if we don't do it, then who will?'," Abe said, speaking before Putin. "We are both fully aware that it will not be easy."
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said a treaty with Russia would be signed "after resolving the issue of the attribution of the Four Northern Islands," referring to the disputed territory.
Putin and Abe have held numerous meetings over the past few years in a bid to solve the dispute over the islands.
The two countries have launched various economic projects on the islands in areas such as the farming of fish and shellfish, wind-generated energy, and tourism.