Missiles and talks: N. Korea wants to reopen lines with S. Korea

North Korea, which has tested ballistic missiles in the past week, plans to reopen communication lines with South Korea after a year. The strategy is part of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s desire for international recognition as a nuclear power, experts say. 

Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service/AP
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a parliament meeting in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sept. 29, 2021. During his speech, Mr. Kim said that restoring communication with South Korea would help usher in peace between the two nations.

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un expressed willingness to restore stalled communication lines with South Korea in coming days while shrugging off U.S. offers for dialogue as “cunning ways” to conceal its hostility against the North, state media reported Thursday.

Mr. Kim’s statement is an apparent effort to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington as he wants South Korea to help him win relief from crippling U.S.-led economic sanctions and other concessions. Pyongyang this month has offered conditional talks with Seoul alongside its first missile firings in six months and stepped-up criticism of the United States.

The U.N. Security Council scheduled an emergency closed meeting on Thursday at the request of the United States, the U.K., and France on North Korea’s recent tests.

During a speech at his country’s rubber-stamp parliament on Wednesday, Mr. Kim said the restoration in early October of cross-border hotlines – which have been largely dormant for more than a year – would realize the Korean people’s wishes for a peace between the two Koreas, according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Mr. Kim still accused South Korea of being “bent on begging external support and cooperation while clamoring for international cooperation in servitude to the U.S.,” rather than committing to resolving the matters independently between the Koreas.

Mr. Kim echoed his powerful sister Kim Yo Jong’s calls for Seoul to abandon “double-dealing attitude” and “hostile viewpoint” over the North’s missile tests and other developments. Some experts say North Korea is pressuring South Korea to tone down its criticism of its ballistic missile tests, which are banned by U.N. Security Council resolutions, as part of its quest to receive an international recognition as a nuclear power.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry responded that it’ll prepare for the restoration of the hotlines that it said is needed to discuss and resolve many pending issues. It said it expects them to operate smoothly because their restoration was directly instructed by Kim Jong Un.

On the United States, Kim Jong Un dismissed repeated U.S. offers to resume talks without preconditions, calling them an attempt to hide America’s “hostile policy” and “military threats” that he said remain unchanged.

The Biden administration “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,” Mr. Kim said.

He added: “The U.S. remains utterly unchanged in posing military threats and pursuing hostile policy toward [North Korea] but employs more cunning ways and methods in doing so.”

He has warned he would bolster his nuclear arsenal and stay away from negotiations with Washington unless it drops its “hostile policy,” a term used to describe the U.S.-led sanctions and regular military drills between Washington and Seoul.

U.S. officials have repeatedly expressed hope to sit down for talks with North Korea “anywhere and at any time,” but have maintained they will continue sanctions until the North takes concrete steps toward denuclearization. The diplomacy has been stalled for 2 ½ years due to disagreements over easing of sanctions in return for limited denuclearization steps.

China, North Korea’s last major ally, said Thursday it hopes the hotlines restoration would help improve ties between the two Koreas.

But it also urged the U.S. to roll back some of the sanctions targeting the North’s civilian economy.

“The U.S. should avoid repeating empty slogans, but rather show its sincerity by presenting an appealing plan,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “It should invoke the rollback terms of the Security Council’s [North Korea]-related resolutions as soon as possible and make necessary adjustments to relevant sanctions.”

President Joe Biden told the U.N. General Assembly last week that his administration would seek “serious and sustained diplomacy” to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s outreach to Seoul came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who seeks progress in his appeasement policy on North Korea before he leaves office next May, proposed a symbolic peace declaration during his U.N. speech last week.

“Kim Jong Un will likely continue to use South Korea to move the Biden administration in its favor,” Kwak Gil Sup, head of One Korea Center, a website specializing in North Korea affairs, wrote on Facebook. “He’ll make more outright attempts to wedge South Korea and the U.S. apart. It’s a highly sophisticated strategy to make the best use of the impatience of the [Moon] government preoccupied with producing progress in its peace process on the Korean Peninsula in its final months in office.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Kim’s sister was elected as a member of the State Affairs Commission led by her brother during this week’s Supreme People’s Assembly session, KCNA reported. The appointment of Kim Yo Jong, who already is a senior ruling party official who handles Pyongyang’s relations with Seoul, is another sign Mr. Kim is solidifying his family’s rule in the face of mounting economic difficulties caused by the pandemic and the sanctions.

This story was reported by The Associated Press. AP journalists Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Liu Zheng in Beijing contributed to this report.

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