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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea must end military drills and other “hostile acts” if it wants to resume inter-Korean dialogue and cooperation, the North Korean-run outlet Uriminzokkiri said on Friday, calling for the two sides to resolve “fundamental issues” first.
In the commentary, Uriminzokkiri — which primarily targets foreign audiences and is not meant for domestic consumption — reiterated DPRK leader Kim Jong Un’s warning in April that the situation on the Korean peninsula “stands at a critical crossroads.”
“The problem is that concealed hostile acts against a counterpart for dialogue occur every day in South Korea, instead of coming up with active measures to urgently rectify the current situation that cannot be ignored,” it said.
The outlet also denounced the South Korean government for “continuously conducting joint military drills in collusion with foreign forces which violates the spirit of the inter-Korean agreement.”
“It is a self-evident fact that distrust and confrontation cannot be resolved and dialogue and cooperation cannot be revitalized in the midst of the loud sounds of gun-fire and a strong smell of gunpowder,” it continued, accusing Seoul of hypocrisy in calling for dialogue while engaging in military drills.
“The first step in resolving all problems must begin with what is necessary as well as fundamental issues that should be solved… a wide road to cooperation and exchanges will open when an atmosphere of reconciliation and trust is created.”
In the article, Uriminzokkiri reiterates rhetoric that was also seen in a commentary last month, in which an externally-focused outlet said humanitarian assistance from the South is a “secondary issue” in improving relations, arguing that the two must first resolve “fundamental problems.”
To that end, the article said, the “antagonism against the same race and all hostile acts stemming from it should be halted and military tensions should be alleviated as clarified in the historic North-South Declaration and the military agreement.”
“If [the South Korean government] continues to stick to concealed hostile acts that turn away from the nation’s orientation, the only thing that they will face is distrust and confrontation.”
North Korean outlets have recently ratcheted up condemnation of the South’s Ulchi-Taeguk exercise, which lasted between May 27 and 30.
Most notably, last Friday the party daily Rodong Sinmun warned of “negative consequences” in response to the drill, describing it as a “reckless and dangerous war provocation and racket.”
Friday’s article, however, appears to be toned-down compared to recent reports, refraining from directly naming the military drills as a source of tension.
Seoul has sought in the past few weeks to bring an end to a now-months-long impasse in inter-Korean dialogue, with President Moon Jae-in expressing an interest in holding a summit with Kim Jong Un before meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Seoul at the end of the month.
On Thursday Moon repeatedly reiterated his desire to meet Kim Jong Un at any time.
“I do not know if an inter-Korean summit can take place in June,” he told assembled media during a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg as part of an official state visit to Oslo.
“But it is not physically impossible, as we have experience with holding summits after only short-term contact and consultation.”
Responding to Moon’s comments, a senior presidential official, who wished to remain anonymous, said Friday that they are not in a position to share further details before a “final” decision is made.
Seoul sees North Korea’s decision earlier in the week to dispatch Kim Yo Jong to convey a message from the DPRK leader in response to the death of former South Korean first lady Lee Hee-ho as auspicious, the presidential official emphasized.
They added that Pyongyang’s request that Seoul send senior-level officials to meet with Kim Yo Jong, as well as the ensuing 15-minute conversation, were also positive signs.
During a closed-door briefing, the official said that “there is sufficient room to interpret” these developments as the North’s willingness to engage in “inter-Korean dialogue and peace.”
The official also declined to elaborate on President Moon’s remarks on Thursday that a recent letter from Kim Jong Un to the U.S. President included “a very interesting part which President Trump did not announce.”
South Korean director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong was briefed by the U.S. on the content of the letter, they added, saying Chung had expected Trump’s description of it as “beautiful.”
Meanwhile, the South Korean Vice Minister of Unification Suh Ho paid a visit to the joint liaison office in Kaesong on Friday — his first since taking up the position last month.
The Ministry of Unification (MOU) said on Friday that Suh was greeted on his arrival by North Korea’s tentative deputy director Kim Yong Chol (not to be confused with the country’s powerful vice-chairman of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) who has the same name).
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Joint Press Corps