North Korea Dangles Hopes for Summit and End-of-War Declaration

SEOUL — ​North Korea would consider holding a summit meeting with South Korea and declaring an official end to the Korean War if the South can restore trust with it, the North’s official news agency reported on Saturday, citing the sister of its leader, Kim Jong-un.

Mr. Kim met three times with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea in 2018. But inter-Korean relations have chilled since Mr. Kim’s ​diplomacy with former President Donald J. Trump ​collapsed in early 2019 without an agreement on ending the North’s nuclear weapons programs and lifting sanctions on the country.​

In recent months, Mr. Moon has repeatedly urged the North to engage in dialogue, hoping to put the peace process on the divided Korean Peninsula — his main foreign policy initiative — back on track before his single, five-year term ends in May. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Mr. Moon repeated his proposal for a declaration to end the Korean War.

Mr. Moon insists that if all major participants in the war — the two Koreas, the United States and China — together make such an end-of-war declaration, it could build confidence on the Korean Peninsula and help the North move toward denuclearization. He sees the end-of-war declaration as a trust-building “political” gesture before negotiating a legally binding peace treaty. Fighting halted in a truce in 1953, leaving the peninsula technically in a state of war.

“When the parties involved in the Korean War stand together and proclaim an end to the war, I believe we can make irreversible progress in denuclearization and usher in an era of complete peace,” Mr. Moon said.

President Moon Jae-in addressing the the U.N. General Assembly this past week. An end-of-war declaration, he said, could lead to “irreversible progress in denuclearization.”Credit…Pool photo by Eduardo Munoz

On Saturday, Mr. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo-jong, appeared to stoke ​Mr. Moon’s hope​s.​

She said that if the South restored mutual trust between the two Koreas, “​​several issues for improving the relations,​”​ including ​the end-of-war declaration and an inter-Korean summit, can “see meaningful and successful solution one by one at an early date,” according to ​an English dispatch by the North​’s Korean Central News Agency​.​ Ms. Kim​ serves as her brother’s spokeswoman on issues related to South Korea and the United States.

Ms. Kim did not elaborate on how South Korea could restore mutual trust, except for repeating that it must end a “hostile policy” toward the North. Ms. Kim also criticized a comment Mr. Moon made after South Korea successfully tested its first submarine-launched ballistic missile this month as part of its ​efforts to counter the North’s growing missile and nuclear threat. Mr. Moon called the South’s missile development “a firm deterrent against North Korean provocations.”

Mr. Moon had applied “double standards,” Ms. Kim said, by calling the North’s ​missile tests “provocations” while justifying the South’s missile development as an act of deterrence.

Ms. Kim also reminded South Korea of statements she issued in August, when she said that peace could take root on the peninsula only ​when South Korea and the United States terminated their joint military exercises and ​American troops ​and weapons were withdrawn ​from the South.

Mr. Moon’s office did not immediately respond to Ms. Kim’s statement.

Although Ms. Kim’s statement on Saturday was one of the most conciliatory from the North in recent years, it was couched in vague wording and caveats.​ Her statement on Saturday, she said, was “just my personal view.”

Ms. Kim “shows once again how adept she is in the art of psychological manipulation,” dangling before South Korea “all things Moon desperately desires before his term expires next May,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea expert at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Kim Yo-jong, the sister of the North’s leader, made a conciliatory statement but it was replete with caveats.Credit…Pool photo by Jorge Silva

Mr. Kim had promised to visit Seoul for a return summit meeting when he met Mr. Moon in Pyongyang in September 2018, but he has not followed up on ​that pledge.

Another Kim-Moon summit before the South Korean leader steps down in May is highly unlikely, given the North’s extreme caution against meetings with outsiders during the pandemic, said Lee Byong-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.​ The North’s real aim might be to extract aid from South Korea as a reward for starting negotiations for a possible summit,​ he said.

But Mr. Moon and Mr. Kim could meet in Beijing next February and join the leaders of China and the United States for an end-of-war declaration if China brought them together at its 2022 Winter Olympics, said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies in the Sejong Institute in South Korea.

Still, Mr. Cheong said, “​It’s not wise to read too much into Kim Yo-jong’s conciliatory remarks and​ become too optimistic.”

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