The Korea Herald


N. Korean leader's speech arouses cautious optimism

By KH디지털2

Published : Jan. 1, 2015 - 13:36

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's New Year's Day speech heralds an aggressive peace offensive by his regime in 2015, but it's still early to be optimistic about a landmark breakthrough, experts here said Thursday.
Appearing on state television, Kim raised the possibility of summit talks with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.
"Depending on the mood and circumstances to be created, we have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks," he said. 
It was the first time for him to talk publicly about an inter-Korean summit. He also spent unusually lots of time stressing the significance of improved Seoul-Pyongyang relations. Kim spoke about the need to improve inter-Korean ties in last year's version as well, but he spent more time and was more specific in addressing the issue this year.
While Kim and Park have totally different strategies and political situations at home, they share a key long-term goal: the reunification of Korea. The importance of the agenda will grow this year with Korea marking the 70th anniversary of its liberation from Japan's colonial rule that began in 1910.
Improved inter-Korean ties would be one of the biggest accomplishments for both of the leaders, with Kim entering his fourth year in power and Park entering her third year.
"North Korean leader Kim expressed his will to improve South-North relations in the New Year's speech in a more specific manner than last year," said Chang Yong-seok, senior researcher at a Seoul National University institute. "North Korea is expected to aggressively propose dialogue throughout this year."
Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor of North Korean studies at Korea University, agreed. He said Kim seems to have made a "practical" decision to choose dialogue, faced with the reality that he can't resolve economic problems without addressing inter-Korean relations.
In her own New Year's message, the South's president also pledged more efforts for peace and preparations for reunification.
"It's time that both Park and Kim are in need of accomplishments in inter-Korean relations," said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies. "Chances are high that the two sides will break the deadlock by showing a flexible attitude."
The North is expected to accept the South's offer of dialogue. Its presidential panel proposed earlier this week minister-level talks in January on top of Seoul's existing offer of another vice ministerial meeting.
Kim said his communist regime will seek "high-level" talks and other types of negotiations to open a new chapter in bilateral relations.
Some analysts say Park and Kim may meet in Russia in May as they were invited to attend a local ceremony marking the end of World War II.
It remains uncertain, however, whether the two sides will produce a significant breakthrough in the coming months with a number of hurdles still left.
Kim reiterated Pyongyang's call for the suspension of routine joint military drills by South Korea and the United States.
He added the North would continue its policy of pursuing economic development and improving its nuclear program at the same time.
The South maintains that before the lifting of the "May 24th Measure," a set of economic sanctions, the North should first take a responsible step toward its 2010 torpedo attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 sailors.
The North has accused the conservative Park government of allowing activists to fly anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border -- a matter that Seoul links with the freedom of speech.
Pyongyang places an emphasis on three previous summit deals reached by former leader Kim Jong-il and two liberal leaders from the South, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
Although the North's leader said he would step up efforts to normalize the Mount Kumgang tourist project, the South remains prudent.
The time has come for the two leaders to approach inter-Korean ties with more flexibility, but the gap is still wide between the conditions they want to create, said the pundits. (Yonhap)