Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Kim Jong Un could still be prioritizing negotiations with the United States following his first appearance on horseback at snow-covered Mount Paektu, Seoul said Monday.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said the North Korean leader recently climbed Mount Paektu in an event state media described as the "first snow" ahead of a possible major decision, Newsis reported.
The South Korean official told the National Assembly's foreign affairs and unification committee Kim's rare appearance is a sign North Korea is prioritizing denuclearization negotiations with the United States.
"We compared the [most recent] visit to Mount Paektu to past visits, when strategic decisions were made," Kim Yeon-chul said. "There appears to be a slight difference from the past, and economic aspects, because of [a related visit] to [nearby] Samjiyon County."
KCNA reported last week Kim Jong Un was in nearby Samjiyon inspecting construction. He has visited Samjiyon multiple times in 2019, where the regime has been reportedly building a resort.
The South Korean official said North Korea's deadline for negotiations by the end of 2019 means there is a "need for working-level talks." North Korean officials most recently met with U.S. counterparts in Sweden but talks collapsed.
North Korea has also rejected talks with South Korea and has been militarizing islands at the maritime border.
Seoul's defense ministry came under fire on Monday from opposition party lawmakers, including Ha Tae-kyung of the center-right Bareun Mirae Party, News 1 reported.
Ha and others asked Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo about the presence of North Korean artillery on five islands at the disputed Northern Limit Line.
Ha requested confirmation from Jeong about the presence of North Korean weapons on five islands, including Jangjaedo, Galdo, Mudo, Arido and Hambakdo. The lawmaker asked Jeong about 16 multiple rocket launchers, capable of shooting 288 rockets simultaneously.
Jeong did not deny the presence of the artillery. Jeong also said making public the presence of the North Korean artillery is "not good for [South Korean] national security," according to the report.