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Pyongyang issues olive branch to Seoul, warning to Washington

Kim Jong-un expresses willingness to restore inter-Korean hotlines next month

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at the second-day session of the SPA meeting held on Wednesday, in this photo released by the Korea Central News Agency on Thursday. (KCNA-Yonhap)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un speaks at the second-day session of the SPA meeting held on Wednesday, in this photo released by the Korea Central News Agency on Thursday. (KCNA-Yonhap)

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held out an olive branch to South Korea, saying he was willing to reopen the severed inter-Korean hotlines in October, while denouncing the US offer of dialogue without it changing its “hostile policy” toward the regime, the North’s state media said Thursday.

Speaking on the second day of a meeting of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, Wednesday, Kim expressed his willingness to restore from early October the communication lines that were shut down due to a breakdown in inter-Korean relations, according to the Korea Central News Agency.

The reactivation of the lines would help “realize the expectations and desire of the entire Korean nation,” he said.

North Korea stopped using the hotlines in early August in protest of the joint military drills between South Korea and the US, just days after reactivating them for the first time in a year.

“We have neither aim nor reason to provoke South Korea and no idea to harm it and it is necessary for South Korea to promptly get rid of the delusion, crisis awareness and awareness of getting harmed that it should deter the North’s provocation,” Kim was quoted as saying.

The leader stressed that it would be up to the attitudes of the South Korean authorities whether “inter-Korean relations would be restored and develop onto a new stage or continue to keep the present stage of worsening.”

Kim urged Seoul to drop its “double-dealing attitude” and “hostile viewpoint,” echoing his influential younger sister in saying the future of inter-Korean ties is at a “crossroads of serious choices” between reconciliation and a “vicious cycle of confrontation.” He attacked both the US and South Korea for an “excessive arms buildup” and for their joint military exercises, which he said were destroying “stability and balance” around the peninsula.

The Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, said it will prepare for the reopening of the hotlines, which is needed to discuss a host of pending issues between the two Koreas. “Considering the restoration was directly instructed by Kim, we expect the resumption of the lines and their stable operation,” said Lee Jong-joo, the ministry spokesperson.

During a South Korean National Security Council meeting in the afternoon, the council members discussed Kim’s latest speech and reiterated that the hotlines needed to be restored at the earliest possible time. They also stressed that stability on the Korean Peninsula, with no military tension, was more important than ever.

Kim’s somewhat conciliatory gesture comes as the North has ratcheted up tensions on the Korean Peninsula. It fired a cruise missile early this month, followed by two short-range ballistic missiles on Sept. 15, in defiance of a UN Security Council resolution that bans the North from developing or testing any nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. On Tuesday the North fired a new hypersonic missile.

Analysts say Kim’s latest overture is aimed at pressing Seoul to take action in its favor and that he is taking advantage of President Moon Jae-in’s last-ditch efforts to make progress on inter-Korean ties before his single five-year term ends next May.

“North Korea, under the strategy that improved inter-Korean relations could help advance its ties with the US, is hoping that the Moon administration will play a mediator role and convince the US to change its stance to what is favorable to Pyongyang,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

But others say given Pyongyang’s unchanging tough stance on Washington, it is unlikely that improved inter-Korean relations would lead to better US-North Korea ties.

“The inter-Korean hotlines will soon be restored and the atmosphere for dialogue could be created, but without resolving the fundamental issues, such as the joint US-South Korea military exercises, there would be limits to improving the relations,” said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.

Meanwhile, Kim stepped up criticism against the US, slamming Washington’s proposal for talks as a “petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts and an extension of the hostile policy pursued by the successive US administrations.”

He pointed out that the US remains “utterly unchanged” in terms of posing military threats and pursuing a hostile policy toward his county.

Since the Biden administration took office early this year, the US has repeatedly offered to meet North Korean officials “anywhere, at any time, without preconditions.” But Pyongyang has rebuffed such offers, insisting Washington must first withdraw its hostile policy, mainly referring to the annual joint military drills between the allies -- which the North has labeled as rehearsals for an invasion -- and the US-led sanctions on the North over its nuclear program.

Talks toward denuclearization between the US and North Korea have been at a standstill since the collapse of the Hanoi summit in 2019, when former US President Donald Trump rejected Kim’s offer of denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief. Since then, inter-Korean ties have also remained largely stalled.

On Thursday, Sung Kim, US special representative for North Korea, reiterated that the US harbors no hostile intent toward Pyongyang and supports humanitarian assistance to the country, after the talks with his South Korean counterpart, Noh Kyu-duk, in Jakarta.

“We remain open to engagement with the DPRK to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues. I want to make clear again that the US harbors no hostile intent toward the DPRK,” he said, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kim added that the US is ready to work cooperatively with the North to address areas of shared humanitarian concern. “To this end, the US supports the provision of humanitarian assistance, consistent with international standards for access and monitoring, to the most vulnerable North Koreans.”

In regards to the recent missile launches, Sung Kim expressed “deep concern” and condemned the actions as violations of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and as a threat to the North’s neighbors and the international community.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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