Japan has agreed to lift some sanctions against North Korea, as the two countries continue talks on Japanese citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday said the move represents the start of a "comprehensive resolution" to the abduction issue. He provided no details on what sanctions would be lifted or when.
"Under the principle of action being repaid by action, I want to lift part of the sanctions Japan has imposed. However, this is just a start," said Abe.
Tokyo and Pyongyang held talks this week at North Korea's embassy in Beijing to address the abductions, which have long been a major irritant to bilateral relations. The two countries do not have formal ties.
North Korea acknowledged in 2002 that it abducted 13 Japanese citizens to teach its spies about Japanese culture. Five of the abductees were returned. The North said the rest are dead, but many in Japan suspect at least a dozen more were kidnapped.
North Korea agreed in May to form a special panel to look into the abductions in exchange for Tokyo relaxing some longstanding sanctions. However, there have been concerns in Tokyo about whether the North Korean panel would have enough power to adequately address the issue.
Abe said Thursday Japan has determined the North has established an "unprecedented framework" to resolve the issue. He said this could include top level organizations such as the North's National Defense Commission or its National Security Agency.
Japan's Kyodo news agency says the panel would include a member of the country's powerful National Defense Commission, which is led by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The decision to lift sanctions comes amid regional worries over North Korea's advances in its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which are prohibited by U.N. sanctions.
South Korea's foreign ministry on Thursday called for Japan's sanctions-lifting process to be "carried out transparently." It also said any action by Tokyo should not damage international cooperation on North Korea's weapons programs.
Japan has insisted that its decision to lift sanctions does not mean it disagrees with its allies, the United States and South Korea, with regards to North Korea's nuclear program.
Tokyo's sanctions against North Korea are separate from the international sanctions regime imposed as a result of United Nations Security Council resolutions.