SEOUL – South Korea’s outgoing president Moon Jae-in exchanged farewell letters with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, both governments announced Friday, marking a checkered relationship full of highs and lows and currently in a diplomatic spree. stalemate is sealed.
M. Moon, 69, who is barred from re-election by law, will step down on May 10 after a five-year term. In his letter sent on Wednesday, he urged Mr Kim to “use dialogue to overcome the era of confrontation” in the divided Korean peninsula, according to Mr Moon’s spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee.
The South Korean president asked Mr Kim to resume dialogue with the United States to try to end the cycle of tensions caused by North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missile launches, which have led to international sanctions.
“There were moments of regret and memories of overwhelming emotions,” wrote Mr. Moon in the letter about his relationship with Mr. Kim. “But I believe that by holding our hands together, we have taken a certain step to change the fate of the Korean peninsula.”
Mr Moon said he would soon return to “life as a commoner”, but that his heart will be devoted to efforts to bring peace between the two Koreas.
North Korea’s First ICBM Fire Since 2017
On March 24, North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, ending a self-imposed moratorium.
Mr Kim, 38, who will most likely rule North Korea until his death, barring a coup or other forced removal, and whose government has harshly criticized the South Korean government, nevertheless had some warm parting words for Mr Moon.
“Kim Jong-un appreciated the pain and effort that Moon Jae-in has put into the great cause of the nation until the last days of his tenure,” the North Korea’s official central news agency reported on Friday, referring to the letter that mr. Kim sent in reply. “The exchange of personal letters between the top leaders of the North and South is an expression of their deep confidence.”
The Koreas are technically still at war since the fighting between the two sides ended in 1953, not with a formal peace treaty, but with a ceasefire. When Mr. Moon took office in 2017, the Korean Peninsula appeared to be headed for renewed war. North Korea tested a hydrogen bomb and launched intercontinental ballistic missiles. President Donald J. Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the north. The two leaders exchanged personal insults such as “little Rocket Man” and “US dotard.”
But Mr Moon and Mr Kim introduced a rare relaxation when they met three times in 2018, hugged and vowed to build peace and reconciliation on the peninsula. Mr Moon regularly called for dialogue and improvement of inter-Korean relations. He saw his political shares soar when he brokered the unprecedented TV summit between Mr Kim and Mr Trump in Singapore in 2018.
The leaders signed a document in which Mr Trump promised “security guarantees” for North Korea and Mr Kim pledged to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”.
mr. Moon also had his own moments of glory, standing at the May Day Stadium in Pyongyang in 2018, becoming the first South Korean leader to address a North Korean audience. He and Mr. Kim raised their hands on Mount Paektu, considered by the Koreans as the sacred birthplace of their country.
But the euphoria did not last long.
The devil is always in the details when it comes to negotiating the implementation of a deal with North Korea. Mr Moon’s painstaking work to mediate between Mr Kim and Mr Trump began to fray after their second summit, held in Hanoi in 2019, collapsed without leaders settling the details of how the agreement with Singapore will be handled. to feed.
The Importance of North Korea’s Missile Tests
Mr Trump left office without the removal of any North Korean nuclear warheads. Mr Moon later said that Mr Trump “turned around the hot mess and failed to get it through.”
Since then, Mr. Kim resumed a barrage of weapons tests, including an intercontinental ballistic missile last month. His administration has expressed frustration with South Korea by calling Mr Moon’s government “official”, an “idiot” and a “dreaded mongrel dog”. The North even blew up a joint inter-Korean liaison office that Mr. Moon as one of his most important legacies.
In South Korea’s polarized society, critics of Mr Moon called him a naive pacifist who had bet too much on Mr Kim’s unproven commitment to denuclearization. But mr. Moon had die-hard supporters for his approach. His ratings have hovered around 44 percent this month, a generally high record for an outgoing South Korean leader, according to surveys.
Still, the signature policy of Mr. Moon to seek dialogue and exchanges with North Korea in jeopardy after his Liberal Democratic Party candidate lost the March 9 election by a paper-thin margin to Yoon Suk-yeol, who favored a more aggressive stance on North Korea during the campaign.
In his letter, Mr. Kim send a vaguely worded message to Mr. Yoon, the new president of South Korea. Mr Kim said that “inter-Korean relations would improve and develop as desired and expected by the nation if the North and South make tireless efforts with hope,” the North Korean news agency said.
Mr. Yoon’s office did not immediately publicly comment on Mr. Kim’s comments.
During the campaign, Mr. Yoon that he was open to dialogue with North Korea. But like former conservative South Korean leaders, he also stressed the importance of enforcing sanctions against the North as a tool to pressure North Korea to return to the negotiating table.