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Politicians divided over whether Kim Jong-un can visit Seoul within this year

With North Korea maintaining its silence as to whether Kim Jong-un will visit Seoul before the end of this year, speculation is rampant among political parties here as to whether the North Korean leader will deliver on his promise.

In his meeting with President Moon Jae-in in Pyongyang in September, Kim pledged to visit Seoul “at an early date.” But the communist state has yet to accept Moon’s invitation to visit by the end of this year.

The prolonged silence has prompted a flurry of speculation over whether the North Korean leader’s first visit to South Korea will materialize within this year and what has caused Kim to be hesitant on making good on his promise.

“Kim’s visit to Seoul is a pretty big deal for North Korea. ... They seem to gauge what kinds of impact Kim’s visit would bring,” Rep. Kim Jong-dae of the liberal Justice Party said in an interview with local broadcaster CBS on Tuesday. 

North Korea`s leader Kim Jong-un. Yonhap
North Korea`s leader Kim Jong-un. Yonhap

The lawmaker, who met with a group of North Korean officials at Kumgangsan last month, said the North Koreans were “very mad” about Moon’s reluctance to accelerate inter-Korean economic cooperation and tourist projects.

According to the lawmaker, the North Korean officials had expected Moon to proceed with the cross-border economic projects despite international sanctions that prevent Seoul from launching such massive economic projects with Pyongyang.

North Korea has criticized Seoul for joining the US-led “maximum pressure” campaign via sanctions. On Monday, Washington placed sanctions on three senior North Korean officials for alleged human right violations.

“I was under the impression that the North Koreans were a bit sulky about South Korea,” the lawmaker said. “Instead of confusing the people with the idea of Kim’s end-of-the-year visit, it is better to hold the event in a more productive environment.”

Some lawmakers, however, remain optimistic about Kim visiting Seoul within this year, and have called for Moon to convince Kim to make a bold decision.

Rep. Park Jie-won of the left-of-center Democratic Peace Party, who arranged the first-ever inter-Korean summit in 2000, said that even if the North Korean leader decided to visit Seoul, they would not reveal it to the public until the last minute due to safety concerns.

When Kim made his first visit abroad to China in March to meet with President Xi Jinping, the world found out about it only after the North Korean leader had crossed the border with China. Chinese and North Korean state media confirmed the summit after the event took place.

“I think there is flexibility regarding Kim’s visit to Seoul within this year,” Park said during a meeting with local broadcaster MBC, adding that North Korea might have been struggling to figure out a way to address safety concern over Kim’s visit to Seoul.

“During the 2000 inter-Korean summit, North Korea notified us about its supreme leader’s schedule only hours before the events. ... So there is no way that the North would publicly announce Kim’s visit days before it actually takes place.”