South Korea North Korean
South Korea North Korean – North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, left, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in cross the military demarcation line to the south in the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone on April 27, 2018. Korea Summit Press Poll via AP file
SEOUL, South Korea — The leaders of the rival Koreas exchanged letters, expressing hope for improved bilateral relations that have been strained over the past three years amid a freeze in nuclear talks and North Korea’s rapid weapons development.
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North Korean state media said leader Kim Jong-un received a personal letter from ousted South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday and responded to his letter on Thursday praising Moon’s peace efforts.
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Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said on Friday that their exchange of letters showed their “deep trust”. Moon’s office also confirmed that he had been exchanging letters with Kim but did not immediately say what was said.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have escalated since North Korea’s series of weapons tests this year, including the first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since March 2017, aimed at restoring a nuclear standoff with the United States. Acceptance as force is to compel. Removal of restrictions.
South Korea’s military also found signs that North Korea was rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear test site that was partially dismantled weeks before Kim’s first meeting with then-President Donald Trump in June 2018, a A possible indication that the country is preparing to resume nuclear explosive tests. .
I met with Kim three times in 2018 and lobbied hard to help arrange Kim’s meetings with Trump. But diplomacy never recovered after the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in Vietnam in 2019, where the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility. Which would be equivalent to his partial surrender. Nuclear capabilities.
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Kim has since vowed to strengthen his nuclear deterrent in the face of “gangster-like” US pressure and has accelerated his weapons development despite limited resources and pandemic-related difficulties.
North Korea also cut off all cooperation with the Moon regime while expressing anger over the continuation of US-South Korea military exercises, which have been halted in recent years to promote diplomacy with the North, and by Seoul to Washington. Inability to receive concessions from .
“I wrote in my letter to Kim that he will continue to support efforts to reunify Korea based on the joint declarations for inter-Korean peace issued after their meetings in 2018,” KCNA said.
Kim and I shared an opinion that “inter-Korean relations will improve and develop according to the wishes and aspirations of the nation (Korea) if (North and South) make unremitting efforts with hope,” KCNA said.
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South Korea’s next leader may take a hard line toward Pyongyang. Conservative President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, who takes office on May 10, has ruled out “talks for the sake of talking” with North Korea and a full-scale military effort to strengthen Seoul’s alliance with Washington and counter the North’s nuclear threat. He has decided to resume the exercises. .
Analysts say North Korea is also likely to increase its weapons demonstrations in the coming weeks or months to force a response from the Biden administration, which is focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine and competition with China.
Biden’s special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, traveled to Seoul this week for meetings with senior South Korean officials and said they agreed on the need for a strong response to North Korea’s “volatile behavior.”
After years of maintaining a conciliatory tone, Moon’s government this year more strongly opposed North Korea’s weapons tests, criticizing the Kim government for lifting an automatic ban on long-range missile tests and urging a return to diplomacy.
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Seoul has also accused North Korea of destroying South Korean property at the Diamond Mountain resort in North Korea, where they held joint tours until 2008. In 2019, Kim described South Korean facilities there as “smelly” and ordered their destruction, even though Kim was there. Delayed by the coronavirus pandemic FILE – New South Korean President Yoon Seok-yul speaks during the 20th presidential inauguration reception in Seoul. “Our government will respond strongly and strongly to any provocation in North Korea,” he said during a ceremony to mark South Korea’s Memorial Day on Monday.
Less than a day after North Korea fired an unprecedented eight ballistic missiles, South Korea and the United States returned the favor, launching eight of their own into the sea off Korea’s east coast.
The retaliatory launch is the latest sign that South Korea’s new conservative president, Yoon Seok-yul, will respond more quickly and forcefully to North Korea’s missile tests and provocations.
It represents a shift in style from former South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who downplayed public displays of military power in an effort to defuse tensions and preserve opportunities for negotiations with the nuclear-armed North.
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Some analysts worry that Yoon could be locked in a dangerous cycle of provocation, giving North Korean leader Kim Jong-un additional justification to conduct more weapons tests. But others say a stronger response between the U.S. and South Korea is needed to deter North Korean attacks and reassure allies who rely on U.S. protection.
On Sunday, North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles into the sea over a 35-minute period, South Korea’s military said, continuing one of Pyongyang’s most active years for missile tests.
In response, South Korean and U.S. forces conducted a joint live-fire exercise early Monday that included seven South Korean and one U.S. missile. The exercise demonstrated “the ability and position to immediately launch precision strikes on sources of provocation and their command and support forces,” the South Korean military said in a statement.
“Our government will respond strongly and severely to any provocation in North Korea,” Yoon said during a ceremony marking South Korea’s Memorial Day later Monday. “We will ensure that there is not a single crack in the security of lives and property of our people.”
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Yun, who often criticizes the left-wing Moon’s efforts with North Korea as dangerous and foolish, has emphasized a policy of “peace through strength.” He not only supports the continuation of the South Korean military, but also strengthens his country’s alliance with the United States.
During last month’s summit, Yun and US President Joe Biden discussed holding large-scale joint military exercises, which were held under the moon. The two men also reaffirmed America’s commitment to deploying “strategic assets,” potentially referring to nuclear-capable bombers and submarines.
Some fear Yun might go too far, unnecessarily provoking North Korea. During his campaign, Yoon threatened “preemptive strikes” against North Korea if an attack appeared imminent. As a candidate, Yoon also said he would ask the U.S. to agree to a nuclear weapons-sharing arrangement, or to transfer the tactical nukes that Washington withdrew from South Korea in the early 1990s — ideas quickly Denied by the State Department.
Jin Lee, a Korea expert at the Wilson Center, said there was a risk that Yoon’s more assertive approach would contribute to an increase in inter-Korean tensions, but said the Biden administration would ensure that the allies’ response was coordinated. .
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“It is important for the Yun administration to act swiftly and decisively in response to North Korea’s provocations, not only to send a warning to North Korea but also to reassure its citizens and allies in the region that his administration is in close contact with Biden.” . . administration,” Levy told VOA.
“But responding to every provocation would risk a return to the 2017 tensions, which would only justify Kim escalating the tests,” he added.
Since Yun took power, North Korea has conducted three rounds of missile tests. Two of the three were quickly followed by a barrage of South Korean missiles.
After North Korea launched three missiles on May 25, South Korea and the United States fired back at what they said were a pair of missiles from the northeastern South Korean city of Gangneung. However, a source in the coastal city told VOA that they saw at least 20 projectile launches that day.
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Meanwhile, North Korea is on pace for its busiest missile test in years. In March, it launched an intercontinental ballistic missile for the first time since 2017. US and South Korean officials say the North may soon conduct a nuclear test.
However, North Korea’s intense testing cycle began long before Yoon took office, suggesting that the North is testing on its own schedule — not in response to Yoon.
James Kim at the Essen Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul acknowledged the possibility of worsening inter-Korean tensions, but noted that Yoon had expressed interest in talks with the North.
“The question, of course, is whether Kim Jong Un has the interest and capacity to engage in a conciliatory manner with South Korea. So far, there is no indication that they are seriously considering this option. Unless this changes Until then, we have to live with the risk of deterioration,” added Kim.
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Some still fear that Yoon will feel pressured to respond to each of North Korea’s tests, leading to further escalation in what some have called an arms race.
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