TOKYO, March 28 (Xinhua) -- Japan on Friday suggested it may begin to ease unilateral sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) if positive steps are taken to resolve a decades-old abduction issue.
Keiji Furuya, the Cabinet Minister in charge of the DPRK abduction issue, said that the easing of sanctions would be dependent on cooperation from the DPRK, and other ministers added that there were high hopes for upcoming intergovernmental talks between the two sides scheduled Sunday in Beijing.
"If North Korea (DPRK) shows sincere, positive moves toward resolving the abduction issue, it is possible for Japan to gradually lift its unilateral sanctions," Furuya told a press briefing, ahead of the resumption of official talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang after 16 months.
Furuya added that the lifting or easing of Japan's unilateral sanctions would be based on the outcome of the upcoming negotiations and intimated that firm developments would be expected from the DPRK before Japan reciprocates.
Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said he was hopeful the talks would lead to the DPRK taking steps to address the abduction issue and added that Tokyo would respond in a "patient manner."
The DPRK said in 2002 it abducted 13 Japanese nationals in 1970s and 1980s, but talks on the issue were shelved in December 2012, when the DPRK launched a long-range missile.
Five of those abducted have already been returned to Japan, the DPRK has previously stated, with the remaining eight having already died.
Japan has said however it is not convinced of the deaths of the eight abductees and believes there may be more abductees still unaccounted for, pending what it has described as a lack of credible evidence, but the DPRK maintains the matter remains resolved.
Japan first slapped sanctions on the DPRK following a missile launch by Pyongyang in July 2006. The sanctions involved banning port calls by a vessel used to transport DPRK residents of Japan between the two countries. Restrictions were also imposed on DPRK officials visiting Japan.
Japan extended the sanctions following a lack of progress on the abduction issue and in response to further missile launches by the DPRK, and other vessels were blocked from Japanese ports and trade was severed between the two countries.
Ties between Japan and the DPRK deeply soured following Japan's 1910-1945 military occupation of the Korean peninsula, and observers believe that at the renewed high-level intergovernmental talks on Sunday, Japan will likely be quizzed by the DPRK over compensation for the Korean women forcibly conscripted into sexual slavery and known euphemistically as "comfort women", during Japan's occupation of the peninsular.
Observers also noted that any defrosting of ties between Japan and the DPRK over the former's easing of sanctions might draw the ire of other nations, including the United States, who believe that the DPRK's nuclear and missile development programs violate U.N. resolutions.