Kim Jong-un open to talks with South Korea

Kim's call for improving inter-Korea relations comes as Pyongyang is facing heightened criticism over its human rights record and souring ties with the US.

Ahn Young-joon/AP
People watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivering a speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Jan. 1, 2015. Kim, in a nationally televised New Year's Day speech, says he is open to a summit with his South Korean counterpart. The letters read: "Meeting."

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in a New Year's speech Thursday that he is open to more talks or even a summit with his South Korean counterpart, a statement welcomed by Seoul, which in turn urged the North to take concrete steps toward normalization of relations.

Kim's call for improving inter-Korea relations comes as Pyongyang is facing heightened criticism over its human rights record and souring ties with Washington over allegations it was involved in the massive hacking attack on Sony Pictures linked to "The Interview," a dark comedy that portrayed an assassination attempt on Kim.

North Korea has denied involvement, but said the hack was a "righteous deed" and suggested it might have been carried out by sympathizers or supporters abroad.

"We believe we can resume suspended senior-level talks and hold other talks on specific issues if South Korea sincerely has a position that it wants to improve North-South relations through a dialogue," Kim said in the nationally televised address. "And there is no reason not to hold the highest-level talks if the atmosphere and conditions are met."

Meeting such conditions has proven to be virtually impossible in the past. The two countries have not held a summit since 2007 and, despite Kim's remarks, the likelihood of one happening again soon is very low given the deep distrust that remains between the two countries.

Some experts in the South, however, cautiously welcomed the possibility of increased talks at lower levels.

"Animosities between South and North Korea would deepen ... if they fail to improve their political ties and ease military tension through a summit this year," said Cheong Seong-chang at the private think-tank Sejong Institute.

South Korean officials say they are basically open to any form of talks. Seoul is waiting for the North to respond to its earlier proposal to hold talks this month to discuss a range of issues needed to prepare for the unification and other issues of mutual concern. South Korea made the proposal earlier this week.

"If North Korea truly has a will to improve South-North relations through a dialogue, we hope (the North) quickly respond positively to our proposal for talks," South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement.

Kim noted that this year is particularly significant because it marks the 70th anniversary of Korea's liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Both sides claim to hold reunification as a fundamental goal, but a vast gap remains over how that should be accomplished and under what form of government a unified Korea would be administered.

On domestic policy, Kim indicated he will stick to the country's longstanding "Military First" policy and suggested he would pursue science, technology and economic policies aimed at improving the impoverished nation's standard of living.

But he also fell back to familiar accusations that the South and the United States are to blame for tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

Kim said South Korea must abandon all plots to launch wars and try to work toward fostering peace, and that Washington must initiate a policy shift by abandoning its "hostile policy" and "reckless invasion plots" on the North.

The 30-minute speech was the third Kim has delivered on New Year's Day, and the first after the end of the traditional three-year mourning of the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in late 2011. Some analysts believe that with the mourning period over, Kim will pursue policies that more closely reflect his own personal priorities.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.