North Korea has confirmed with Japan that the country's supreme body, the National Defense Commission, will grant special power to an inquiry panel looking into the fate of abducted and missing Japanese nationals. It says the panel will be able to investigate any organization.
Officials of the two countries met in Beijing on Tuesday. North Korean officials explained the nature and members of the special panel it promised to set up for the investigation.
Japan's government says at least 17 Japanese nationals were abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s. Five of them returned to Japan in 2002.
Japan's chief delegate, Junichi Ihara, reported on the meeting separately to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
Sources say the North Korean officials explained that the National Defense Commission will give the panel a free hand to investigate any organization in the country.
The officials said the panel will include a senior officer from the secret police. They also said that the North will promptly update Japan on the results of the probe.
The officials offered to invite Japanese representatives whenever necessary to secure transparency.
Japanese leaders plan to lift some of the sanctions the country has imposed on the North since 2006 on the grounds that the feasibility and effectiveness of the inquiry have been confirmed.
The sanctions include restrictions on travel between the 2 countries and a ban on the entry of North Korean ships into Japanese ports for humanitarian purposes.
The government leaders are expected to decide on the easing of sanctions at a Cabinet meeting and a National Security Council meeting on Thursday.
The bans will be partially lifted as soon as the North begins the investigation.
The government will maintain other sanctions it imposed on the North for Pyongyang's nuclear and missile development programs.
They include a freeze on assets of North Korean organizations and individuals based on a UN Security Council resolution.
They also include Japan's own sanctions, such as a ban on port calls by the North Korean cargo-passenger ship Mangyongbong and a ban on trade.
Officials say they will coordinate their policy with the United States and South Korea over the issue.
Jul. 2, 2014 - Updated 21:42 UTC