Kim goes on TV to suggest talks with South Korea

Commuters at Seoul railway station in South Korea watch Kim Jong Un's television address. Picture: AP

Commuters at Seoul railway station in South Korea watch Kim Jong Un's television address. Picture: AP

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said he is open to more talks or even a summit with his South Korean counterpart.

His statement, in a New Year speech, was welcomed by Seoul, which in turn urged the North to take concrete steps towards the normalisation of relations.

In his televised address, Mr Kim said: “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.

“And there is no reason not to hold the highest-level talks if the atmosphere and conditions are met.”

However, meeting such conditions has proven to be virtually impossible in the past.

The two countries have not held a summit since 2007 and, despite Mr Kim’s remarks, the likelihood of one happening again soon is very low, given the deep distrust that remains between the two countries.

Mr Kim’s speech comes as Pyongyang faces heightened criticism over its human rights record and souring ties with Washington over allegations it was involved in the computer hacking attack on Sony Pictures. North Korea has denied involvement in the hacking, linked to The Interview, a dark comedy that portrays an assassination ­attempt on Mr Kim. But it said the hack was a “righteous deed” and suggested it might have been carried out by sympathisers or supporters abroad.

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Some experts in the South 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,” Cheong Seong-chang, of the Sejong Institute think-tank, said.

South Korean officials say they are basically open to any form of talks. Seoul is waiting for the North to respond to its proposal earlier this week to hold talks this month to discuss a range of issues.

“If North Korea truly has a will to improve South-North relations through a dialogue, we hope [the North] quickly responds positively to our proposal for talks,” South Korea’s unification ministry said.

In his speech, Mr Kim noted that this year was particularly significant as it marked 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, Mr Kim indicated he would stick to the country’s long-standing “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. He said South Korea must abandon all plots to launch wars and try to work towards 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 New Year’s Day speech was Mr Kim’s third, and the first since the end of the traditional three-year mourning of the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.

With that mourning period over, some analysts believe Mr Kim will now pursue policies that more closely reflect his own personal priorities.

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