North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (KCNA-Yonhap)
It was North Korean leader Kim Jong-un who first reached out to reopen the severed hotlines between the two Koreas after a hiatus of almost 14 months, according to Seoul’s spy agency on Tuesday.
As for Kim’s health condition, the officials said there is no sign of abnormality, citing his light manner of walking and other gestures. His younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, also seems to maintain her No. 2 status in the regime as a top diplomatic strategist, they added.
Officials of the National Intelligence Service made the remarks during a parliamentary intelligence committee’s regular audit session into the agency.
The closed-door session came after South and North Korea reopened military and other diplomatic communication channels on July 27, which both governments touted as the outcome of months of exchanges between President Moon Jae-in and the North Korean leader.
“The two leaders have exchanged personal letters twice since April,” one of the officials was quoted as saying by Rep. Kim Byung-ki of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea, a senior member of the intelligence committee.
“The North appears to be figuring out whether the South has any intention to carry out the Panmunjeom Declaration,” he said referring to the inter-Korean agreements made following the 2018 summit talks between Moon and Kim, under which the two Koreas agreed to stop hostile activities against each other for the ultimate goal of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
Based on the spy agency’s analysis, he also noted that the hotline restoration reflects Pyongyang’s expectations about Seoul’s mediator role in resuming its stalled talks with Washington.
“But during months of exchanges between the two leaders, no discussions had been made on issues like the North’s killing of a public servant in the West Sea or its wrecking of the inter-Korean liaison office,” Rep. Ha Tae-keung of the main opposition People Power Party, another senior member of the committee, criticized the South for not raising those sensitive issues.
According to the lawmakers, the spy agency confirmed that the South had offered holding working-level talks via video links but it did not elaborate on the North’s response to the offer. But the agency reportedly denied any discussions had been made on a possible summit between Moon and Kim.
Restoring the communication links may signal a thaw in the almost collapsed diplomacy between the two Koreas, but fresh tensions seem to be looming surrounding the upcoming Seoul-Washing military drills later this month, with rival parties clashing over the timing and size here.
On Sunday, Kim Yo-jong issued a warning, saying the drills could rekindle tensions between the two Koreas and hinting at possible countermeasures if the two allies push ahead with the plans.
“I understand the importance of the joint drills, but a flexible approach needs to be considered in order to continue the current momentum for inter-Korean talks and ultimately for North Korea’s denuclearization,” NIS chief Park Jie-won said during the session.
His remarks immediately faced a backlash from the opposition bloc.
Ha, the PPP lawmaker, urged Park to withdraw his words and to apologize to the public, saying: “The NIS, responsible for national security, has been degraded to an institution taking command from Kim Yo-jong.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org