(ATTN: RESTORES dropped paras)
SEOUL, Dec. 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Sunday hailed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's renewed commitment to denuclearization, a development that may give fresh momentum to the stalled talks with the United States on ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs.
Kim "reaffirmed his commitment to aggressively carrying out deals reached with leaders of South Korea and the United States," Moon said of a personal letter that he received from Kim.
The North Korean leader repeatedly said he is committed to the "complete denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula during his separate summits with Moon and U.S. President Donald Trump earlier this year.
Still, no significant progress has been made as North Korea and the U.S. have been deadlocked over sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its nuclear tests and its long-range rocket launches.
Pyongyang has repeatedly called for the lifting of sanctions, but the U.S. has maintained that present restrictions will remain in place until the North fully gives up its weapons of mass destruction programs.
"Even though there will be a lot of difficulties going forward, our hearts will be opened to each other depending on how much effort we make," Moon wrote in a Facebook message.
Moon's reaction came soon after South Korea announced that Kim sent a letter to Moon.
Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at the Sejong Institute, an independent security think tank near Seoul, said meaningful process can be made only when the U.S. is ready to give something that North Korea wants.
In September, North Korea offered to dismantle its key nuclear facilities in Yongbyon in exchange for corresponding measures from the U.S.
North Korea did not elaborate on what it meant by corresponding measures, but the measures are widely believed to refer to the lifting of sanctions.
North Korea has long been at odds with South Korea and the U.S. over the definition of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, a move that could hinder the process of North Korea's denuclearization.
North Korea claims the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula means removing all elements of nuclear threats from South and North Korea and also from surrounding areas from where the Korean Peninsula is targeted.
Kim -- who met with Moon three times this year -- also said he wants to meet Moon frequently in 2019 to discuss practical measures for peace and prosperity and to resolve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Moon said.
Still, Kim apparently did not mention his possible second summit with Trump. The two first met in Singapore in June.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month that the U.S. is hopeful that Trump and Kim will get together not too long after the first of the year.
Kim's letter -- two A4-sized pieces of paper delivered by an undisclosed North Korean official -- came two days before the North Korean leader issues a verbal New Year's message on the country's state television and radio.
The message will be closely scrutinized by officials and experts in South Korea, the United States and other regional powers as it offers clues on the North's policy goals in the new year.
In his New Year's speech, Kim is expected to stress that North Korea and the U.S. should equally reciprocate for denuclearization, not just North Korea taking unilateral steps, said Cho Seong-ryoul, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Strategy, a think tank affiliated with South Korea's spy agency, the National Intelligence Service.
Moon also said South Korea "remains unchanged in welcoming" Kim's possible trip to Seoul.
Kim expressed disappointment for not making his promised trip to Seoul by year's end but emphasized a strong willingness to honor the promise while closely watching relevant situations, presidential spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom told reporters.
The spokesman also said Moon could send a letter to Kim.
Inter-Korean relations in limbo despite end of allies' joint drill
Moon presents 'unshakable nation' vision, extends olive branch to Japan
Moon reaffirms unswerving commitment to peace drive
New missile tests compound doubts about early resumption of U.S.-N.K. talks
Latest N.K. missile firings underscore discontent over S. Korea-U.S. drills: experts