South Korea’s presidential office on Monday appeared to be cautiously optimistic about a conciliatory overture from North Korea over the weekend, saying the reclusive regime had shown renewed eagerness for dialogue.
On Saturday, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said the two Koreas could discuss improvements to their long-strained ties if mutual trust is restored. She went on to say that North Korea would consider holding a summit meeting and declaring an official end to the Korean War “if conditions were met.”
“We see the statement itself as a positive one but caution remains,” President Moon Jae-in’s senior secretary for communications, Park Soo-hyun, said in a radio interview with CBS on Monday.
Kim’s statement was one of the most conciliatory from the North in recent years amid almost collapsed diplomacy between the two Koreas since the breakdown of the North Korea-US summit in Hanoi in February 2019. But her vague wording also fueled speculation about the North's true intention.
The conservative bloc dismissed the latest overture, saying the “conditions” meant sanctions relief that cannot be accepted by the US immediately. But the liberal bloc said it left room for diplomacy.
Park also admitted that her wording was open to interpretation but he said he saw reason for cautious optimism.
In her previous statement issued in August, she demanded South Korea and the US terminated their joint military exercises and American troops and weapons were withdrawn from the South. But this time she did not elaborate on specific conditions but repeated that the South must end a hostile policy toward the North.
“Kim used an expression ‘just my personal view.’ It was a rare case. She left room for flexibility to better control the situation,” Park said. “Her demands were also less specific than before. I think North Korea has renewed eagerness for dialogue.”
Park also noted her statement followed Moon’s offer to declare an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War in his UN speech last week. The president stressed the end of-war declaration as a trust-building “political” gesture before negotiating a legally binding peace treaty.
“The president’s offer may be nothing new but it seems to be playing a role in inducing reactions from North Korea and the US. If these reactions are interpreted as positive signals among the nations, that could add new momentum to their stalled talks,” he said.
Still, Park was cautious about putting too much weight on Kim’s recent statement, saying the restoration of the inter-Korean hotlines could be considered an indicator to gauge North Korea’s willingness to return to the negotiating table.
The communication lines were briefly restored in late July but the North has not answered Seoul’s regular calls – twice a day – again in protest against the then-planned joint military drills by South Korea and the US.
On Monday, North Korea remained unresponsive to the South’s calls via liaison and military hotlines.
Asked about a possible inter-Korean summit within Moon’s remaining term as president, Park said: “The North Korea issue requires a two-track approach considering both inter-Korean and North Korea-US relations. We will not seek a summit in a rush to improve inter-Korean relations only.”
By Lee Ji-yoon (email@example.com