The leaders of North and South Korea have restored the suspended channels of communication between them and agreed to improve their relations, the two governments said on Tuesday, amid a two-and-a-half-year standoff in diplomacy. by the United States to strip North Korea of its nuclear weapons. .
While the move could certainly help allay animosities on the Korean Peninsula, it is not clear whether Pyongyang would go so far as to revive previous vigorous cooperation programs with Seoul and return to nuclear talks with Washington. Some experts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un simply intends to boost his international image or use South Korea as leverage before a possible resumption of talks with the United States
Since April, Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have exchanged personal letters several times and decided to normalize cross-border communication channels as a first step towards improving relations, Moon’s office said.
The two leaders agreed to “restore mutual trust and re-develop their relationship as soon as possible,” Park Soo Hyun, senior official at Blue House, told a televised briefing. Park said the two Koreas subsequently reopened communication channels on Tuesday morning.
North Korean state media quickly confirmed the South Korean announcement.
“Now the whole Korean nation wants North-South relations to recover from the setback and stagnation as soon as possible,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. “In this regard, the main leaders of the North and the South have agreed to take a big step forward in restoring mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by re-establishing the inter-Korean lines of communication cut through the recent exchanges of letters. personal. “
Last year, North Korea cut off all channels of communication with South Korea to protest what it called South Korea’s failure to prevent activists from floating anti-Pyongyang leaflets. across their border. An angry North Korea then blew up an empty liaison office built by South Korea just north of the country’s border.
Many experts said that the North Korean provocative action showed the North had become frustrated that Seoul had failed to revive lucrative inter-Korean economic projects and persuaded the United States to relax international sanctions against the United States. North.
Moon, who advocates greater reconciliation with North Korea, previously shuttled between Pyongyang and Washington to facilitate a first summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump. But North Korea abruptly turned its back on Moon after a second Kim-Trump summit failed in early 2019 over U.S.-led sanctions disputes.
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Since taking office in January, President Joe Biden’s administration has called on North Korea to resume talks. But North Korea has insisted it will not join the talks unless the United States withdraws its hostile policy against the North, an apparent reference to sanctions.
Some experts said earlier that North Korea may be forced to reach out to the United States or South Korea if its economic difficulties worsen. Mismanagement, storm damage and border closures during the coronavirus pandemic have further impoverished North Korea’s shattered economy and Kim, in recent speeches, called on his people to prepare for restrictions prolonged periods of COVID-19. While his remarks may indicate the potential for a worsening economic situation, outside watch groups have seen no signs of massive famine or social chaos in the country of 26 million people.
Nam Sung-wook, a professor at Korea University, said restoring communication channels is unlikely to lead to a dramatic improvement in relations, like another Moon-Kim summit.
“North Korea knows it will someday have to sit down to talk with the Biden administration. He thinks South Korea still has effective value … to move Biden” in a direction it favors, said Nam said. “North Korea can also build an (international image) that it is ready to continue dialogue” with the outside world.