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Korean leaders Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in exchange letters to ease hostility

SEOUL, South Korea — Leaders of rival Koreas exchanged letters expressing hope for improved bilateral relations, which have plummeted over the past three years due to the freeze on nuclear talks and North Korea’s accelerated arms development.

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

The official Korean Central News Agency of Pyongyang said on Friday their exchange of letters showed their “deep trust”. Moon’s office also confirmed that he exchanged letters with Kim but did not immediately say what was said.

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been rising since a series of North Korean weapons tests this year, including the first flight test of an ICBM since 2017 in March, which revived the nuclear brinkmanship aimed at forcing the US to accept it as a nuclear power and lifting crippling sanctions.

The South Korean military has also uncovered signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear test site it had partially dismantled weeks before Kim’s first meeting with then-President Donald Trump in June 2018, a possible indicator that the country is preparing for the resumption prepared by atomic bomb tests.

Moon met Kim three times in 2018 and was instrumental in arranging Kim’s meetings with Trump. But diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in Vietnam in 2019, at which Americans rebuffed North Korea’s demands for a substantial lifting of sanctions in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility, resulting in a partial handover of their nuclear facility would have equaled nuclear capabilities.

North Korea tested a new tactical guided missile on April 17, 2022.
North Korea tested a new tactical guided missile on April 17, 2022.
Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

Kim has since vowed to step up his nuclear deterrent to counter “gangster-like” US pressures and accelerated his weapons development despite limited resources and pandemic-related difficulties.

North Korea also broke off all cooperation with Moon’s government, while expressing anger at the continuation of US-South Korea military exercises, which have been curtailed in recent years to encourage diplomacy with the North, and at Seoul’s inability to wresting concessions from Washington on his behalf.

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

This photo provided by the North Korean government shows rockets during a military parade to mark the ruling party's congress at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea on January 14, 2021.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un displays missiles during a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea on January 14, 2021.
Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File

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

South Korea’s next leader could take a harder line on Pyongyang. Conservative President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who takes office on May 10, has declined to hold “talks for the sake of talks” with North Korea and vowed to strengthen Seoul’s alliance with Washington and resume its full-scale military exercises to do so to counter the nuclear threat to the North.

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

South Korea's President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol
South Korea’s President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol has promised to strengthen the country’s military.
Jung Yeon-je/Pool photo via AP

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 a strong response was needed to counter North Korea’s “destabilizing behavior”.

After years of maintaining a conciliatory tone, Moon’s government has taken a firmer stance on North Korea’s weapons tests this year, criticized Kim’s government for ending its self-imposed suspension of long-range missile tests and urged a return to diplomacy.

Seoul has also accused North Korea of ​​destroying South Korean facilities at the North’s Diamond Mountain Resort, where they held tours together until 2008. Kim called South Korea’s facilities there “shabby” in 2019 and ordered their demolition, despite work being delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

https://nypost.com/2022/04/21/korean-leaders-kim-jong-un-moon-jae-in-exchange-letters-to-ease-hostility/ Korean leaders Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in exchange letters to ease hostility

JACLYN DIAZ

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