Photo/IllutrationRussian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a plenary session at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok on Sept. 12. (TASS News Agency pool photo via AP)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday repeated Japan's stance that a row over islands seized by Russian troops in the final days of World War II must be settled before a peace treaty can be signed to formally end hostilities between their countries.

Putin appeared to catch Abe off guard when he said at a regional forum in Vladivostok on Wednesday that the two countries should sign a peace treaty by the end of this year--without preconditions.

"We need to read the signals from various comments President Putin has made. It is true that he proposed to work properly on a peace treaty. Of course, Japan's stance is to resolve the territorial dispute and then conclude a peace treaty," Abe said during a televised debate with his rival for a Sept. 20 ruling party leadership election.

"I said so before and after the comment (from President Putin), and President Putin has made a response. But I cannot talk about it because we are in the middle of negotiations ... What I can say is that I believe a summit meeting in November or December will be an important one," Abe added.

The two leaders are likely to meet at one or both of two regional summits later this year.

Both Moscow and Tokyo claim sovereignty over the islands, known in Russia as the Kurile islands and in Japan as the Northern Territories. Abe has made resolving the feud a key plank of his political platform.