TOKYO - North Korea's surprise pledge to probe Cold War kidnappings of Japanese nationals is an attempt to divide its foes that could benefit its nuclear and missile programmes if Tokyo eases sanctions in return, analysts say.
Thursday's announcement, which came after three days of talks in Stockholm, marked sudden progress on an issue that has obstructed ties between the two countries for years.
In exchange for re-opening its investigation into the whereabouts of people snatched off Japan's beaches in the 1970s and 1980s, Pyongyang has been promised a slackening of Tokyo's strictures.
Among the most significant is the possible easing of a ban on cash remittances from the thousands of ethnic Koreans living in Japan, who are loyal to the regime.
That could provide the North with much-needed hard currency for its weapons programmes, and could undermine international efforts to bring the regime to heel, said academic and activist Lee Young Hwa, a professor at Kansai University.
"Kim Jong-Un's regime has won a major compromise," he told AFP. "It has secured a way for money to flow to North Korea.
"Kim has issued an order to Chongryong (its defacto embassy in Japan) to press Korean business people to invest, which will mean cash flowing to North Korea.
"They badly want this money to maintain the regime and to fund the nuclear programme." - Emotive issue - ================= Pyongyang has been under increasingly onerous international sanctions after carrying out nuclear and missile tests, with intelligence suggesting it is readying for a fourth atomic blast.
Any sanctions Japan eases will be unilateral ones imposed in addition to international ones.
Six-party talks aimed at getting the regime to abandon its programmes, involving both Koreas, Japan, the US, China and Russia, have stalled, with Washington and Seoul both declaring that Pyongyang had to show willing before they would sit down again.
North Korea's erratic behaviour has also irked Beijing - its patron and long-time protector - say commentators, leaving Pyongyang looking ever more isolated.