TOKYO - Japan and North Korea are preparing to hold fresh talks after Pyongyang's surprise pledge to probe the Cold War kidnappings of Japanese nationals, a report said Sunday.
Japan's Kyodo news agency said the two sides may meet again late this month, after Japan said on May 29 that it would ease sanctions against North Korea if the secretive state delivers on a pledge to reinvestigate the cases of Japanese citizens snatched in the 1970s and 1980s to train spies.
The announcement, after three days of talks between the two sides in Sweden, marked a major breakthrough in their very strained relationship and the most positive engagement between Pyongyang and the outside world in many months.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens to train its spies in Japanese language and customs. The subject is highly charged in Japan, where there are suspicions that dozens or perhaps even hundreds of others were taken.
Citing Japanese government sources, Kyodo said both sides were arranging to hold a new round of talks soon, when Pyongyang is expected to set up a special panel to reinvestigate the abductions.
Tokyo hopes Pyongyang will submit a first report on its new probe within the next few months, the news agency said.
The next talks may be held in China, with Junichi Ihara - head of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau - and Song Il-Ho, North Korea's ambassador for talks to normalise relations with Japan, expected to come together, Kyodo said.
Ihara and Song were chief negotiators at the talks in Stockholm.
Tokyo and Pyongyang have no formal diplomatic ties, partially because of what Japan says is the North's unwillingness to come clean over the abductions.