Kim Jong-un orders hotlines back in use
“The U.S. is touting ‘diplomatic engagement’ and ‘dialogue without preconditions’ but it is no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts and an extension of the hostile policy pursued by the successive U.S. administrations,” Kim said in a speech to the Supreme People's Assembly on Wednesday, according to an English-language statement carried by the North’s official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA).
It was the first time that Kim directly responded to the Joe Biden administration’s repeated calls for dialogue “without any preconditions.”
Kim spoke in a more conciliatory tone about the South, in what appeared to be an attempt to pressure Seoul to get the Joe Biden administration to ease crippling sanctions, suspend joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, or allow it to keep its existing arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles – the list of items that the regime has repeatedly demanded from Seoul and Washington.
Kim said that the inter-Korean hotlines, which his government stopped using when relations deteriorated, will be restored in early October.
“The north-south communication lines that had been cut off due to the deteriorated inter-Korean relations are restored first from early October as part of the efforts for realizing the expectations and desire of the entire Korean nation to see the earlier recovery of the north-south relations from the present deadlock and durable peace settling in the Korean peninsula,” he said, according to the KCNA.
Military hotlines between the two Koreas were restored on July 27 after Pyongyang unilaterally severed them 18 months before.
But two weeks later, the North refused to answer calls after Seoul and Washington conducted joint military exercises.
Kim took a jab at the exercises during his speech Wednesday, saying that he is closely watching “excessive arms buildup and allied military activities” that are “destroying the stability and balance around the Korean peninsula,” adding that it will be up to South Korea to ensure that inter-Korean ties are restored.
“We obviously remind the south Korean authorities of the fact once again that it depends on the attitude of the south Korean authorities whether the inter-Korean relations would be restored and develop onto a new stage or continue to keep the present state of worsening,” he said in the KCNA statement.
Kim also addressed President Moon Jae-in’s call for a declaration to end the 1950-53 Korean War at the United Nations General Assembly earlier in the month. The war ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the two countries technically at war.
Kim said that even if the war is terminated, the continuation of what he called hostile acts by Seoul and Washington would only lead to continued “distrust and confrontation” between the two Koreas.
Some North Korea watchers called Kim’s speech a calibrated effort to try to gain what it wants in return for a declaration to end the war.
“Although the North did not immediately agree to declare an end to the war, the key point is that the North Korean leader Kim directly mentioned the possibility,” said Jin Hee-gwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Inje University in South Gyeongsang. “His speech can be interpreted as a message to Seoul and Washington that he will consider taking part in the declaration to end the war, as long as the two give North Korea enough grounds to do so by offering incentives like suspending U.S.-South joint military exercises.”
Analysts have made similar assessments of recent statements by Kim Yo-jong, Kim’s sister, who frequently serves as her brother’s mouthpiece.
Kim Yo-jong in two statements in last week said Pyongyang will take steps to improve relations with Seoul, including another summit between the two countries' leaders, if South Korea abandons what she characterized as "hostility" and "double standards,” without defining what exactly she meant.
Kim Yo-jong, already the most powerful woman in North Korea, was promoted on Wednesday to a member of the State Affairs Commission, the KCNA announced Thursday.
The Blue House did not issue a direct response to Kim’s speech Thursday.
“Kim’s speech, Kim Yo-jong’s statements, the North’s missile launches – these are all being closely watched,” a Blue House official told the press on Thursday.
The Unification Ministry welcomed Kim’s call to restore the hotlines.
“The government has consistently maintained the position that the inter-Korean communication line must be restored as soon as possible in order to discuss and resolve various pending issues,” said Lee Jong-joo, spokesperson of the ministry, on Thursday. “The government will make apt preparations in response to Chairman Kim Jong-un’s intention to restore the inter-Korean communication line from the beginning of October.”
The U.S. nuclear envoy Sung Kim on Thursday reiterated the U.S. policy of a “calibrated” approach to the North that is open to dialogue but will not offer incentives just for talks.
“I want to make clear again that the United States harbors no hostile intent towards the DPRK,” Kim said, using the acronym for North Korea’s full name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking with the press with his counterpart Noh Kyu-duk after a meeting in Indonesia on Thursday.
“We are taking a practical, calibrated approach that will explore diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States and its allies,” he said.
Kim took note to emphasize that the South Korean and U.S. governments share “deep concerns about the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches,” adding that the United States is committed to working with its ally South Korea for “complete denuclearization and a lasting peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
North Korea on Tuesday tested what it called a new hypersonic missile, which was the North’s sixth major weapons test this year. North Korea launched cruise missiles on Jan. 22 and March 21 and short-range ballistic missiles on March. 25. It tested long-range cruise missiles over the weekend of Sept. 11-12 and launched two ballistic missiles from a train on Sept. 15.
Under United Nations Security Council resolutions, the North is prohibited from testing ballistic missiles but not cruise missiles.
The council was scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the North’s latest missile tests, according to AFP.
BY JEONG YONG-SOO AND ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]