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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in a personal letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in that he would like to meet “frequently” in 2019, Blue House spokesperson Kim Eui-kyeom said on Sunday.
But the announcement of the two-page letter came as it appeared definitive that Kim Jong Un would fail to visit Seoul before the end of 2018, a commitment Moon previously said Kim had made during September’s Pyongyang summit.
“Chairman Kim expressed regret for not making his trip to Seoul although he had looked forward to making his trip this year as agreed by the two leaders in Pyongyang,” spokesperson Kim said of its partial contents.
Using the letter to also send new years greetings to Moon, Kim Jong Un “made clear that he wants to meet President Moon frequently in 2019 as well to move forward discussions on peace and prosperity and expressed an intent to resolve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula together,” spokesperson Kim added.”
The letter’s prospect of a Seoul visit was being “hung out there as an incentive” for Moon, North Korea watcher Christopher Green of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) said.
“It could push the U.S. into action on sanctions, or it will put Washington in the position of being blamed for faltering inter-Korean relations,” Green explained. “All Kim has to do is claim that he really wants to go.”
But Kim Jong Un would “gain more at this stage from sitting on his hands than from actually crossing the DMZ,” Green said.
The letter also included the North Korean leader’s thoughts on recent “practical and aggressive measures ” taken between the two Koreas, with Kim suggesting that “by meeting three times in a year … they have liberated their people from military tensions and fear of war.
Responding to the letter through a social media post, Moon said he welcomed Kim’s recommitment to denuclearization and added that Seoul remains ready to welcome Kim for a future visit there.
“Even though there will be a lot of difficulties going forward, our hearts will be opened to each other depending on how much effort we make,” Moon also said in the social media post.
Overall, Green said the letter was “reminiscent of that second, “secret” summit at Panmunjom in May”.
“It seems calibrated to imply that Moon has a qualitatively different relationship with the North Korean leader than South Korean leaders of the recent past – and by extension, that Moon is uniquely placed to guide peninsula relations,” Green said.
The Blue House did not, however, reveal how the letter was delivered.
This article was updated at 11.18 CET to add mention of Moon’s response
Main picture: Blue House
Dagyum Ji contributed to this report