The Japanese foreign minister has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg and given him a personal message from the Japanese prime minister ahead of Putin's visit to Tokyo later this month.

A disagreement over the southern Kuril islands — which Japan calls the Northern Territories — has kept the two countries from signing a peace treaty formally ending their World War II hostilities. The Japanese prime minister's two visits to Russia this year have led many to believe that both sides are moving toward a breakthrough.

Putin said in televised comments Friday that Russia is working on the Japanese prime minister's proposals to expand ties between the two countries but made no mention of the Kuril islands.

Japan's foreign minister wouldn't disclose the contents of the message.