South Korean President Moon Jae-in yesterday said that he hopes to see North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fulfill a promise to visit the South this year and called for the Koreas to end a prolonged freeze in bilateral relations.
In his New Year’s speech, Moon also reaffirmed his government’s commitment to resume inter-Korean economic activities that have been held back by US-led sanctions imposed on the North over its nuclear weapons and missiles program.
Any resumption in activities would depend on progress in the larger nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.
North Korea suspended virtually all cooperation with the South during a deadlock in those larger talks, while also pressuring Seoul to break away from Washington and restart the joint economic projects, which would breathe life into North Korea’s broken economy.
Moon called on Pyongyang to respond to Seoul’s efforts to resume bilateral dialogue, saying an improvement in inter-Korean relations would also help induce progress in the nuclear negotiations.
He urged North Korea to refrain from military demonstrations and threats that would potentially hurt the momentum in nuclear negotiations with Washington.
“The South and North should work together so to create the conditions for Chairman Kim Jong-un’s visit [to South Korea] as soon as possible,” Moon said during a nationally televised speech.
“I have a willingness to meet again and again, and hold ceaseless dialogue. We will continue to invest efforts for the resumption of the Kaesong industrial park and tours to Diamond Mountain,” he said.
South Korean tours to the North’s Diamond Mountain resort were a major symbol of rapprochement between the rivals before they were suspended in 2008 after a North Korean guard fatally shot a South Korean tourist.
Seoul’s previous conservative government shut down a jointly run factory park in the North Korean border town of Kaesong in 2016 following a North Korean nuclear test.
Moon’s comments came days after Kim appeared to sideline inter-Korean issues during a key ruling party conference, where he declared to strengthen his nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” US sanctions and pressure.
The North Korean state media’s account of the meeting did not include any mention of South Korea.
The official Korean Central News Agency yesterday said that Kim visited a fertilizer factory recently and reiterated his call for his people to stay resilient in a struggle for economic “self-reliance” in face of sanctions, saying that the “fiercer the adverse wind raised by the hostile forces gets, the fiercer our red flag will flutter in high spirits.”
North Korea last year dialed up military tensions, conducting 13 rounds of ballistic tests, which potentially expanded its ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including US military bases there.
It in October demanded that South Korea clear out its hotels and other properties at the mountain resort, expressing frustration that Seoul would not defy international sanctions and resume South Korean tours at the site.
The erosion in inter-Korean relations has been a major setback to Moon, a son of North Korean war refugees who met Kim three times in 2018, while expressing ambitions to restart inter-Korean economic engagement.
In their third summit in Pyongyang in September 2018, Kim and Moon had vowed to restart South Korean tours to the resort and normalize operations at the factory park when possible, voicing optimism that sanctions could end to allow such projects.
Kim during the meeting promised Moon that he would visit Seoul “in a short time.”
However, without a breakthrough in the nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, the economic projects remain shelved.
No North Korean leader has visited Seoul since the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in a ceasefire.
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