By Hyonhee Shin
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he is willing to restore severed inter-Korean hotlines next month but accused the United States of proposing talks without changing its “hostile policy”, the North’s KCNA state news agency reported on Thursday.
Kim made the remarks at the reclusive country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, which gathered for a second day to discuss the government’s political, economic and social agenda.
North Korea this week conducted its latest in a series of weapons tests, firing a previously unseen hypersonic missile https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-korea-says-it-test-fired-new-hypersonic-missile-kcna-2021-09-28 and joining a race for the advanced weapons system led by major military powers. It again demanded that South Korea and the United States scrap “double standards” over weapons development.
The United States and ally South Korea have for years been trying to press North Korea to give up its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for sanctions relief.
Kim has refused to abandon weapons he says North Korea needs for its defense and has at times tried to drive a wedge between the two allies.
In his latest comments, he expressed a willingness to reconnect inter-Korean hotlines but criticized South Korea’s “delusion” over what it calls North Korean military provocations.
“We have neither aim nor reason to provoke South Korea and no idea to harm it,” Kim said, according to KCNA.
North Korea severed the hotlines in early August in protest against joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises, just days after reopening them for the first time in a year.
The decision to restore the communication link was to help “realize the expectations and desire of the entire Korean nation” for recovery and durable peace, Kim said.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, welcomed Kim’s offer on the hotlines but did not comment on his other remarks.
Kim took a tougher line on the United States, accusing President Joe Biden’s administration of “employing more cunning ways and methods” in pursuing military threats while offering talks.
“The U.S. is touting ‘diplomatic engagement’ and ‘dialogue without preconditions’ but it is no more than a petty trick for deceiving the international community and hiding its hostile acts,” Kim said.
The Biden administration has said it reached out to Pyongyang to break an impasse over denuclearization talks.
‘OPEN TO ENGAGEMENT’
Sung Kim, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea, said on Thursday the North’s missile tests posed a threat to neighbors, and he stressed that the United States had “no hostile intent” toward North Korea and was ready for “tangible progress” on the diplomatic front.
“We remain open to engagement … to discuss the full range of bilateral and regional issues,” the U.S. envoy said after meeting his South Korean counterpart in Indonesia, where he serves as U.S. ambassador.
The U.N. Security Council will meet on Thursday over the North’s latest test following requests from the United States, Britain and France, diplomats said.
Analysts say the North’s carrot-and-stick approach is aimed at securing international recognition as a nuclear weapons state and dividing the United States and South Korea, taking advantage of President Moon Jae-in’s desire for a diplomatic legacy before his term ends in May.
“The North seems upset about the Biden administration having not made any concrete, tempting proposal to resume negotiations,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
North Korea was also attempting to foster a more positive mood towards it in the South ahead of its presidential election and to press Moon to help shift the U.S. stance, he said.
Kim Jong Un did not refer to the North’s recent missile tests but touted “ultra-modern weapons which are being developed at an extremely fast speed” and capable of containing “hostile forces.”
KCNA separately reported that Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s powerful sister, was named a new member of the State Affairs Commission, a top body created in 2016 and chaired by Kim Jong Un, as part of a reshuffle unveiled on the sidelines of the parliament meeting.
Kim Yo Jong, 32, has risen rapidly since her brother took power in 2011, becoming a senior official on propaganda and ideological messaging in 2014 and later taking on diplomatic duties.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Sangmi Cha; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Richard Pullin, Robert Birsel)