At their first formal talks since November 2012, senior Japanese and North Korean diplomats on Sunday agreed to work toward settling "outstanding issues" impeding bilateral ties.

The meeting, to end Monday in Beijing, was held amid mixed signals from North Korea over its willingness to re-engage in diplomacy. At issue is whether the North will agree to fulfill its promise to reinvestigate what happened to the Japanese it abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

Song Il Ho, North Korea's ambassador for talks on normalizing relations with Japan, compared the resumption of governmental dialogue to the arrival of spring, "when icy rivers melt and water begins to flow."