OKYO - Japan's new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed with Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday to restart talks on a peace treaty hampered since World War II by a territorial row, an official said. In a 20-minute telephone conversation, Abe, who was formally elected to his second stint as Japan's premier on Wednesday, also agreed to visit Russia at an "appropriate" date in 2013, the Japanese official said. Abe's predecessor, Yoshihiko Noda, had planned to visit Russia in December but the trip was cancelled due to a problem with Putin's health, Japanese media said. Those reports were immediately denied by Putin's spokesman.

Abe, prime minister from 2006-2007, returned to power after his conservative Liberal Democratic Party overwhelmed Noda's centre-left Democratic Party of Japan in a general election this month.

In the conversation, Abe told Putin that their two countries should work hard to find a "mutually acceptable solution" to the island row, the official said.

Russia and Japan have long been at odds over the southern Kuril islands, which Soviet forces seized in the last days of World War II, driving away Japanese inhabitants. Tokyo refers to them as its "Northern Territories."

The dispute has prevented the two countries from signing a postwar peace treaty.

Putin told Abe that "there is a need to instruct the foreign ministries of both countries to activate the process regarding the peace treaty", the official said.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev provoked fury in Japan when he visited the islands earlier this year, adding to a hugely controversial visit he made while serving as president in November 2010.