Japan decided to partially lift its sanctions against North Korea after Pyongyang promised a new probe into its kidnappings of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s, the two countries said yesterday.
Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said that Pyongyang also agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the 1970 hijacking of a Japanese jet that was flown to North Korea. Four of the hijackers remain in the reclusive nation.
“North Korea told us they would investigate with the intent to settle the kidnapping issue,” Komura told reporters. “They acknowledged that the kidnapping issue is not resolved.”
Komura also said Japan would lift some of the sanctions imposed to persuade Pyongyang to cooperate on the abductions, including the ban on ships between the two countries, and restrictions on North Koreans entering Japan.
He did not say when the sanctions would be lifted.
North Korea’s official news agency, the Korean Central News Agency, released a statement on the deal, saying Pyongyang would “reinvestigate” the abductions, while expressing willingness to cooperate in the hijacking case.
Word of a breakthrough came after the two sides met for two days of bilateral meetings in Beijing.
The reports appeared to herald progress in Japan’s decades-long campaign to resolve North Korea’s abductions of Japanese citizens for use as spies and language teachers.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura, however, played down the magnitude of the progress, reflecting the unpredictability of dealing with the communist dictatorship in Pyongyang.
“We are hopeful that North Korea will provide substantial results, including the return of the kidnapping victims,” he said.
In its efforts to persuade North Korea to cooperate, Japan has imposed tight trade sanctions against the impoverished communist nation, banning, for instance, the running of a ferry between the two nations.
The kidnappings have long held up progress in normalizing relations between Japan and North Korea or winning Japanese participation in the granting of aid to the impoverished state in return for it giving up its nuclear weapons program.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens, and allowed five to return home, saying that the remaining eight had died.
Japan, however, has demanded conclusive proof of the deaths, and also wants Pyongyang to investigate the fates of other suspected victims.
In the hijacking, nine Japanese leftist radicals commandeered a Japan Airlines flight in 1970 and took the plane to Pyongyang. Four of the kidnappers remain in North Korea, and Tokyo has long sought their return to Japan to face justice.
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