North Korea fires missile, accuses US of “double standard”
North Korea and South Korea are in talks to reopen a joint liaison office that Pyongyang demolished last year and hold a summit as part of efforts to restore relations, three South Korean government sources said. aware of the file. write Hyonhee Shin, David Brunnstrom in Washington and Tony Munroe in Beijing.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have explored ways to improve strained relations by exchanging several letters since April, the sources said on condition of anonymity due to diplomatic sensitivity. .
The talks signal an improvement in relations that have deteriorated over the past year after three leaders’ summits in 2018 pledged peace and reconciliation.
Inter-Korean talks could also help restart negotiations stalled between Pyongyang and Washington aimed at dismantling the northern nuclear and missile programs in exchange for sanctions relief.
The problem is critical for Moon, who faces a drop in support during his last year in office. Moon staked his legacy on improving relations with North Korea and helped organize historic meetings between Kim and then-US President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019.
The two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, on Tuesday, the hotlines reconnected the North parted ways in June of last year.
The two sides are discussing the reconstruction of their joint liaison office in the truce village of Panmunjom on the border, two sources said. Pyongyang dramatically destroyed the old office in its border town of Kaesong in 2020.
They are also seeking a summit between Moon and Kim, but no timeline or other details have been raised due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sources said.
North Korea has not confirmed any cases of COVID-19, but has closed borders and imposed strict prevention measures, viewing the pandemic as a matter of national survival.
“Talks are still ongoing and COVID-19 is expected to be the most important factor,” a source said. “A face to face meeting is the best, but hopefully things will improve.”
Moon’s office referred to a briefing on Tuesday from his press secretary, Park Soo-hyun, who said the issue of restoring the liaison office should be discussed and leaders had so far not proposed. no plan for a summit.
A second source said that a virtual summit could be an option depending on whether North Korea balks at an in-person meeting over COVID-19.
“If we can do it and the North has that capacity, it would make a big difference and open so many windows of opportunity, something to rekindle talks with the United States.”
North Korea, which has not held any meetings with foreign nationals since the start of the pandemic, restricts access to outside media, and its mission to the United Nations was not available for comment.
Moon had called for a revival of hotlines and offered a video summit with Kim, but Pyongyang had alreadyyou responded publicly with scathing criticism, claiming he had no intention of speaking in Seoul.
The first source said that Moon and Kim had exchanged “candid” letters more than 10 times, which led to the opening of a communication channel between the Seoul intelligence service and Kim’s sister, Kim. Yo Jong.
Despite “ups and downs” in the consultations, the two sides agreed this weekend to reactivate the hotlines as a first step.
Kim’s move reflected a willingness to respond to US openings for talks, as President Joe Biden’s administration pledged a practical approach, including not appointing a envoy for human rights issues in Korea. North, the source said.
“There were some visible elements, including the pursuit of a phased, action-for-action approach, instead of a big deal, and the appointment of a nuclear negotiator, instead of an envoy for human rights. man, ”the source said. “After all, Washington has exposed its policies and the North cannot stand idly by, so inter-Korean relations were the starting point.”
The U.S. Embassy in Seoul declined to comment, referring the questions to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in June that the Biden administration was determined to appoint a North Korean human rights envoy but did not offer a timeline.
Washington supports inter-Korean engagement and diplomacy is essential to achieve full denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, a spokesperson said on Tuesday, welcoming the opening of the hotlines.
A third source said the two Koreas only announced the reopening of the hotline because little progress had been made on other issues, including how the North would apologize for blowing up the office. connection.
Struck by last year’s pandemic and typhoons, North Korea is facing the worst economic crisis since a famine in the 1990s that killed up to 3 million people.
However, few deaths have been reported due to hunger, the first source said, aided by Chinese aid and the release of military and emergency reserves.
North Korea is expected to resume trade with China as early as August, involving freight train services, after scrapping plans to do so in April mainly due to concerns over more contagious variants of COVID-19, said The source.
The Beijing Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and appeals to the Chinese Embassy in Seoul went unanswered.