TOKYO (Reuters) - North Korea and Japan, normally barely on speaking terms other than to exchange accusations, ended their first direct talks in four years on Friday by agreeing to meet again, the latest sign of Pyongyang's recent attempts to come in from the cold.
The destitute state's new young leader Kin Jong-un has been pushing hard to soften the stern image of his ruling dynasty, signal plans to reform the economy and win more support from its only real ally, China.
"Arrangements will be made so that a wide range of issues in which both sides hold interest are discussed in the (next) inter-governmental talks," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary, Osamu Fujimura, told a regular news conference.
After this week's working-level talks, the next round will be with senior officials, though no date has been set.
The main focus for Japan is the fate of Japanese abducted by North Korea decades ago and Pyongyang's nuclear weapon's programme, seen as one of the biggest threats to the economically powerful region.
"Clearly, the abduction issue is a matter of great interest for Japan ... In addition, we would like security-related issues to be discussed as well."
The next higher-level talks will be held in Beijing "at the earliest time possible," Fujimura said.
Improved relations with Japan could be a major economic help for one of the world's most heavily sanctioned states which relies on food aid even in years of good harvests.
Compounding its problems, the North could be facing a repeat of the crisis which led to widespread famine in the 1990s, in which a million people are estimated to have died, an aid worker recently returned from the North told Reuters in Beijing this week.
Asked if Japan had offered some support to the impoverished nation or made some form of concession to get the abduction issue on the agenda, Fujimura brushed off the question, saying that they had only been preliminary talks.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka, Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)