North Korea and Japan have agreed terms for a new investigation into Pyongyang's abduction of Japanese people in the 1970s and 1980s, opening the way for Tokyo to lift some sanctions.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il
Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said Wednesday, Aug. 13, that talks aimed at wrapping up a fresh investigation into the abductions this autumn represented "progress" in the long-standing row with North Korea.
The deal would see North Korea complete the investigation in the next few months, with Japanese given access to documents, interviews and to related sites to verify the results.
Japan imposed sanctions, including a ban on North Korean imports, in 2006 after the communist state conducted a nuclear test and test-launched ballistic missiles.
Move could boost aid for Pyongyang
Japan has no diplomatic ties with North Korea, and has refused to give aid to Pyongyang, or to lift sanctions, until the emotionally charged kidnapping issue is resolved.
The pact solidifies a breakthrough deal struck in June, under which North Korea said it would finally resolve the abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s. The issue has blocked a rapprochement between the Cold War foes.
Kyoko Nakayama, the cabinet minister in charge of the abduction issue, cautiously welcomed the outcome. "We are entering a new phase if they conduct an investigation on the assumption that there are survivors," he told AFP news service.
Japan hopes to uncover survivors
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il admitted at a landmark 2002 summit with then prime minister Junichiro Koizumi that his regime kidnapped Japanese civilians to train its spies in the enemy nation's language and customs.
He allowed five to return and said eight others were dead, including the most famous victim, Megumi Yokota, who was a 13-year-old schoolgirl when she was whisked away in 1977. Japan insists more are alive and that North Korea has not acknowledged other abductees.