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Kim Jong Un exchanges friendly letters with outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged personal letters this week, both governments reported Friday. File Photo by EPA-EFE
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in exchanged personal letters this week, both governments reported Friday. File Photo by EPA-EFE

SEOUL, April 22 (UPI) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have been exchanging warm words through personal letters this week, both governments announced Friday -- a rare show of goodwill on the increasingly tense peninsula.

Moon, whose presidential term ends in May, initiated the correspondence with a letter that Kim received Wednesday, North Korean state media reported.

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The South Korean president, who made closer ties with the North a key goal of his administration, told Kim he hoped that a joint declaration the two leaders signed in 2018 would form "the foundation for the reunification even after his retirement," Korean Central News Agency reported.

Kim replied Thursday, saying that he also hoped that inter-Korean relations would improve and that he "appreciated the pains and effort taken by Moon Jae-in for the great cause of the nation," the KCNA report said.

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The exchange was an expression of the "deep trust" between the two leaders, Kim added.

The cordial words come in stark contrast to North Korea's inflammatory actions in recent months. Pyongyang has conducted 13 weapons tests since the beginning of the year, including the launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile last month.

While most of Pyongyang's angry rhetoric remains targeted at the United States, it has also reserved scorn for its southern neighbor. Earlier this month, Kim Yo Jong, the sister of Kim Jong Un, threatened the use of tactical nuclear weapons if South Korea's military launched an attack.

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Seoul also confirmed the correspondence Friday, with presidential spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee saying the letters "looked back on the past five years and sympathized with the continued efforts to achieve peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula through mutual trust and dialogue."

"Although sad moments intersect with memories of overwhelming emotions, I still think that we have taken a sure step that will change the fate of the Korean Peninsula by working hand in hand," Moon wrote, according to Park.

The two leaders were at the center of a renewed period of detente in 2018 and 2019 that led to three inter-Korean summits and enduring images such as an address by Moon to a packed Pyongyang stadium.

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Moon also played a key role in facilitating the historic summit between Kim and then-U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018. However, a second Trump-Kim meeting in February 2019 ended abruptly without an agreement, and nuclear negotiations have remained stalled ever since.

In the intervening years, North Korea has ignored Moon's efforts to resume dialogue and instead focused on weapons development despite punishing international sanctions and an economy reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kim lifted a self-imposed moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests, announced ahead of his first meeting with Trump, with the ICBM launch in March. Seoul and Washington have warned that a nuclear weapon test appears likely.

Moon is limited to a single five-year presidential term by South Korea's constitution. His successor, conservative President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, takes office on May 10 and is looking to recalibrate the relationship with the North.

Yoon has said he remains open to dialogue with Pyongyang, but has vowed to take a tougher stance, labeling North Korea the "main enemy."

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