Report: Kim Jong Un said, "We have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks"
Last week, North Korea's government branded Park's election as fraudulent
His words follow an offer by Seoul for minister level talks
Sticking points between the two sides have led to breakdowns in diplomacy in the past
Kim Jong Un is not officially on speaking terms with South Korean President Park Geun-hye. But on Thursday, in his New Year’s address, he said that could change.
Last week, North Korea’s government news agency branded Park’s election as fraudulent and her father – himself a former President – a dictator.
But in his televised speech, for the first time ever, the communist leader said he’d talk with Park, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.
“Depending on the mood and circumstances to be created, we have no reason not to hold the highest-level talks,” Kim said.
North Korea’s state news agency did not publish those remarks in the official transcript of Kim’s speech.
His words may represent a small glacial budge, but that doesn’t mean things will keep moving, Yonhap cautioned. Still, Kim spoke in detail about the need to improve North-South relations.
Moments of thaw
In between bellicose bantering – particularly against the South’s military partnership with the United States – there have been momentary thaws. Three months ago, some of the North’s highest officials paid a snap friendly visit to the South that sparked excited live television coverage.
And this past Monday, Seoul’s unification minister, Ryoo Kihl-jae, sent a fax to Pyongyang suggesting Cabinet ministers on both sides to meet in January, Yonhap reported.
“The South and the North will have to meet each other and discuss ways toward peaceful reunification,” Ryoo later told journalists.
Both want reunification
Reunification is what both sides are pushing for.
“We should make fresh headway in the national reunification movement for this year,” Kim said in Thursday’s address, according to the official transcript published by the North’s Korean Central News Agency.
But they have pursued it on starkly different terms.
President Park last year announced a 2015 road map to reunification, which she laid out in a speech in April in Dresden, Germany, Yonhap has reported.
Dresden was part of East Germany, back when Germany was divided between the democratic West and Soviet Communist East, and South Koreans have drawn hope from that country’s reunification for the possible realization of their own. Park’s talk has been called the Dresden Declaration.
Free market support
Since then, the South has sought support from its international allies for Park’s reunification plan, selling a single Korea as an economic boon to a global free market, Yonhap has reported.
The North has railed against this, fearing the economically muscular South, aided by other capitalist countries, would, in a reunification, effectively digest the North. Kim does not want Seoul’s allies involved and criticized the South’s diplomatic efforts again on Thursday.
“To go on a tour around foreign countries touting for ‘international cooperation’ in resolving the inter-Korean relations issue, the one related with our nation, is a humiliating treachery of leaving its destiny in the hands of outside forces,” he said.
But Kim’s conciliatory words following after the South’s offer to talk again, and his hints of moving talks up to the highest level could be significant.
Ryoo, who extended that invitation, is also Park’s right hand in her reunification effort, Yonhap reported. He said his offer to talk was in line with the 2015 road map.
But Kim’s speech was not all conciliatory. Some of it was bellicose.
He commended his forces’ “showdown with the imperialists,” possibly a reference to caustic reactions to South Korean-U.S. military exercises.
The dictator also praised political killings in his own ranks.
“Our Party detected and purged the anti-Party, counterrevolutionary factionalists at an opportune time and with a correct decision,” the KCNA speech transcript said.
South Korean intelligence officials said that members of the North’s ruling party were shot by firing squad for viewing a South Korean soap opera.
And there are additional pressure points that have derailed Seoul-Pyongyang agreements in the past, such as the floating of messages via balloon by activists in the South into the North. North Korean soldiers opening fire on these balloons last year struck South Korean territory. There were no reported injuries or damage.
The North sees the balloons as a violation of its borders. The South sees them as an exercise of free speech.
The South imposed an economic sanctions package on the North in 2010 over the attack on a South Korean navy ship that killed 46 sailors. Seoul demands that Pyongyang take responsibility for torpedoing the vessel before it lifts the sanctions.