Japan said Thursday it plans to lift some sanctions on North Korea after the two countries held talks about Japanese citizens abducted by the North Korean regime decades ago.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that after the negotiations between diplomats from the two sides this week, North Korea has agreed to set up an investigation into the abduction cases.
"Based on the principle to reward an action with an action, I would like to lift a part of sanctions that Japan has taken," he told reporters. Abe added that such a move would be "only a start," and that he would aim for a "complete resolution" of the issue.
According to the Japanese government, North Korean operatives kidnapped at least 17 Japanese citizens in the late 1970s and early 1980s, possibly dozens more.
In 2002, North Korea admitted to the kidnappings for the first time but allowed only five abduction victims to return home to Japan. Information on the remaining 12 was sketchy at best.
Some were kidnapped alone, while walking to and from school. Others were taken in pairs while out on dates, including a couple snatched from the beach after walking to see the sunset.
Japan is expected to lift some of its unilateral sanctions on North Korea, but to keep to multilateral ones in line with U.N. resolutions.
Japan's unilateral sanctions include entry restrictions on North Korean citizens, limits on North Korean ships in Japanese ports and a requirement that money sent to North Korea be reported.
The easing of the sanctions will coincide with North Korea's establishment of an investigation committee into the abductions, which is likely to happen Friday, said Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Abe is expected to meet with his National Security Council on Thursday to decide which sanctions to lift.
The families of the kidnapped Japanese citizens, meanwhile, are waiting to see whether the diplomatic maneuvers will bring them any answers about what happened to their missing relatives.