TOKYO Japan will decide whether to ease sanctions against North Korea on Thursday after assessing Pyongyang's plan to reinvestigate the fate of the Japanese citizens kidnapped by the reclusive state decades ago, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said.
North Korea in May agreed to reopen the probe into the status of Japanese abductees. In return, Japan promised to lift travel curbs, restrictions on the amount of money that can be sent or brought to the impoverished North without notifying Japanese authorities, and allow port calls by North Korean ships for humanitarian purposes, when the investigation is launched.
Pyongyang, however, has a history of reneging on deals.
Japan has said the final decision on the easing will be made after seeing if the new probe is designed to be effective. Japanese diplomats met their North Korean counterparts on Tuesday to evaluate Pyongyang's plan.
"Tomorrow, relevant cabinet ministers will meet and after examining the results of the discussions, will decide on how the (Japanese) government will respond," Kishida told reporters.
The Japanese sanctions that could be lifted are separate from those imposed by Japan and other U.N. members under U.N. sanctions that followed Pyongyang's first nuclear test in 2006. The North is banned from conducting atomic and missile tests, and U.N. member states are barred from weapons trade with Pyongyang and from financial transactions that facilitate them.
North Korea admitted in 2002 to kidnapping Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to help train spies. Five abductees and their families returned to Japan.
North Korea said the remaining eight were dead and that the issue was closed, but Japan pressed for more information about their fate and others that Tokyo believes were also kidnapped.
In 2008, Pyongyang promised to re-open the probe of Japanese abduction victims, but it never followed through. It also reneged on promises made in multilateral talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program and declared the negotiations had ended.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)