North Korea has spent the past year largely ignoring its southern neighbor, but in his New Year’s address Monday, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un said he’s “open to dialogue” with South Korea.
“When it comes to relations between the North and the South, we should lower the military tensions on the Korean Peninsula to create a peaceful environment,” the young despot said in his speech, adding, “Both the North and the South should make efforts.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has extended his hand several times for talks only to have it rejected by Pyongyang.
South Korean officials have called into North Korea every day for over a year without any response. Officials from the South Korean Ministry of Unification visit the border town of Panmunjom on a daily basis, making calls into North Korea once in the morning and once in the afternoon. No one ever picks up the phone, the Associated Press reported in October.
In July of last year, Moon expressed a strong desire to follow in the footsteps of past liberal South Korean leaders, specifically former President Kim Dae-jung and former President Roh Moo-hyun, who engaged North Korea at historic summits and encouraged cooperation to usher in an era of temporary peace between North and South Korea.
When Moon took office early last year, he promised to restore strained ties between North and South Korea through dialogue and engagement. Throughout the last year, he repeatedly called for talks with the South’s northern neighbor, urging the North to come to the negotiating table, but North Korea ignored his requests.
But, now the North has suddenly changed its tune, and it’s not immediately clear why.
Some observers suspect that North Korea, confident in its offensive capabilities, may be trying to drive a wedge between the U.S. and its ally on the Korean Peninsula, a key component of the North’s long-term strategy.
In his New Year’s address, Kim extended his hand to South Korea, offering to send a delegation to participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, a direct response to a request from Moon.
“We have always stated our willingness to talk with North Korea any time and anywhere if that would help restore inter-Korean relations and lead to peace on the Korean Peninsula,” South Korea’s presidential office said in response to Kim’s out-of-the-blue overture. “We hope the two Koreas will sit down and find a solution to lower tensions and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
Some analysts believe that Kim may be trying to weaken international resolve and reduce pressure on his country by convincing South Korea that the North is ready for peace. Others, however, suspect that he may be trying to use talks with the South to eventually start a dialogue with the U.S.
It is unclear what Pyongyang’s game is, but Kim Jong Un’s about-face is unquestionably noteworthy.
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