Japan and North Korea are making final arrangements to reaffirm a 2008 bilateral accord that includes a promise by Pyongyang to reinvestigate what happened to the Japanese it abducted in return for an easing of unilateral sanctions, sources familiar with the matter said Friday.
The Japanese government, seeing recent signs of flexibility in the North on promoting bilateral negotiations, hopes the revival of the 2008 deal, which Pyongyang unilaterally scrapped, could break the stalemate over the decades-old abduction issue, the sources said.
Japan wants to ensure that North Korea will make good on its promise on the abduction cases, which date back to the 1970s and 1980s.
The two sides are arranging to hold another round of informal talks soon, following talks earlier this month.
Tokyo is now looking into possibly easing sanctions that include a re-entry ban on key members of the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), the sources said.
Tokyo might also let North Koreans re-enter Japan and allow chartered flights, the sources said.
North Korea, which admitted in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese, has repeatedly declared all of the abduction cases settled after allowing five abductees to return to Japan that year.
In August 2008, Japan and North Korea agreed during talks in Shenyang, China, that Pyongyang will reinvestigate the abduction cases as soon as possible, but North Korea later unilaterally scrapped the deal.
North Korea also wants Japan to allow Chongryon to continue using its de facto embassy building in Tokyo, a request the Japanese government may find difficult to heed because it cannot interfere in judicial matters, the sources said.
A Japanese court decided last month to allow the property, which was put up for auction following financial problems, to be sold to a realtor.
How the Japanese government will address this point will be one of the key topics in future talks between Japan and the North, which have no diplomatic ties, the sources said.
Japan is also calling on North Korea to reinvestigate the cases of people who are not on its official list of 17 abductees, suspecting Pyongyang’s involvement in other disappearances, the sources said. Five of the 17 were repatriated in 2002.