Destabilizing speculation

North Korea. Rival leaders exchange letters amid tensions

Seoul, South Korea –

Leaders of rival Koreas exchanged letters expressing hope for an improvement in bilateral relations, which have crumbled over the past three years amid a freeze in nuclear talks and the acceleration of weapons development. North Korea.

North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong Un received a personal letter from outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday and responded Thursday with his own letter appreciating Moon’s peace efforts during his tenure. .

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Friday their exchange of letters showed their “deep trust”.

Moon, in his letter to Kim, acknowledged the setbacks in inter-Korean relations, but insisted that their ambitious vows of peace at their summits in 2018 and an accompanying military deal aimed at defusing clashes in the area border remain relevant as a basis for future cooperation.

Moon also expressed hope for a resumption of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang and for Kim to continue cooperation with Seoul’s next government led by conservative President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, Moon’s spokesman Park said. Kyung-mee.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen since a series of North Korean weapons tests this year, including its first test flight of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March, reigniting a nuclear strategy aimed at forcing the United States to accept it as a nuclear power. and remove crippling sanctions.

South Korea’s military also detected signs that North Korea was rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it had partially dismantled weeks before Kim’s first meeting with the then US president. Donald Trump in June 2018, a possible indicator that the country is preparing to resume testing of nuclear explosives.

Playing his unique presidential term on inter-Korean rapprochement, Moon met with Kim three times in 2018 and lobbied to help arrange Kim’s meetings with Trump. But diplomacy never recovered from the failed second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019 in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for the dismantling of an aging nuclear facility, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim has since pledged to bolster his nuclear deterrent to counter “gangster-like” US pressure and has accelerated his weapons development despite limited resources and pandemic-related difficulties.

North Korea has also severed cooperation with the Moon government while expressing anger at the continued U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which have been halted in recent years to promote diplomacy with the North, and the Seoul’s inability to extract concessions from Washington on its behalf.

KCNA said Moon wrote in his letter to Kim that he would continue to support Korea’s reunification efforts based on their joint statements for inter-Korean peace issued after their meetings in 2018.

Kim and Moon shared the view that “inter-Korean relations would improve and develop as desired and expected by the (Korean) nation if (the North and the South) make unremitting efforts with hope,” KCNA said. .

South Korea’s next leader may take a tougher line on Pyongyang. Yoon, who takes office on May 10, rejected continuing “talks for talks’ sake” with North Korea and pledged to strengthen Seoul’s alliance with Washington and resume their military exercises in scale to counter the nuclear threat from the North.

Analysts say North Korea is also likely to step up its weapons demonstrations in the coming weeks or months to force a response from the Biden administration, which has focused on Russia’s war on Israel. Ukraine and a rivalry with China.

The administration’s actions against North Korea have so far been limited to largely symbolic sanctions imposed this year on a series of missile tests and offers of open-ended talks that were quickly rejected by officials. Pyongyang leaders.

Some in Seoul believe Washington is reverting to the Obama administration’s ‘strategic patience’ policy of ignoring North Korea until it gets serious about denuclearization, though this approach has been criticized for neglecting a growing nuclear threat.

Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, traveled to Seoul this week for meetings with senior South Korean officials and said they agreed on the need for a response. strong to counter the “destabilizing behavior” of North Korea.

After maintaining a conciliatory tone for years, Moon’s government has come out more strongly against North Korea’s weapons tests this year, criticizing Kim’s government for ending its self-imposed test suspension. long-range missiles and urging a return to diplomacy.

Seoul also accused North Korea of ​​destroying South Korean-owned facilities at the Diamond Mountain resort where they held tours together until 2008. In 2019, Kim called South Korean facilities of “shabby” and ordered their destruction, although the work was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.