Japan and North Korea began talks Thursday in Mongolia that Tokyo hopes will shed light on decades-old abductions.
The meetings in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator are scheduled to last through Friday. In August, lower-level negotiators from Japan and North Korea held the countries' first bilateral talks in four years, but made little progress.
Japan wants information on the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s. Japan believes at least one abductee may still be alive in the North, though North Korea denies this. Five abductees were returned to Japan in 2002.
Japan and North Korea do not have formal diplomatic relations. The abduction issue and concerns over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs have long strained ties.
Japanese officials indicated before the start of the talks that they expected them to be tough and not likely to lead to any immediate breakthroughs. North Korea's official media provided few details, reporting only that they were intended to deal with issues of mutual interest.
Japan has imposed strict sanctions against the North and cut off most economic and cultural exchanges in 2006 after a missile launch. Tensions heightened again earlier this year when the North launched a rocket that it said carried a satellite, but that Japan and other countries criticized as a thinly disguised test of long-range missile technology. The launch failed just after takeoff.
As the negotiators met in Mongolia, a group of university athletes from Japan's top sports university were holding a rare series of friendly competitions with students in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. The 40 Japanese students squared off with their North Korean counterparts in judo, soccer and other events.