(ATTN: ADDS unification minister's remarks in paras 9-10)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Jan. 2 (Yonhap) -- The unification ministry said Thursday it is closely watching whether North Korea will announce a separate message on inter-Korean relations after leader Kim Jong-un made no mention of South Korea in his recent remarks at a key party meeting.
In a four-day ruling party plenary meeting held until Tuesday, Kim offered policy directions on key domestic and diplomatic issues, including his stance on denuclearization talks with the United States.
Kim, however, made no mention of South Korea in his remarks, which were seen as a replacement of his highly anticipated New Year's Day speech that was expected to provide his policy stance on issues also including South Korea.
It is rare that the North Korean leader has not mentioned the South in a New Year's Day message since taking office in late 2011. Last year, he devoted a portion of his address on cross-border ties apparently bolstered by his three summit talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in 2018.
"We need to see whether the North will mention inter-Korean relations in an additional message," a unification ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity, saying there could be a possibility of the North issuing a statement on South Korea in the near future.
The absence of South Korea in Kim's remarks at the party meeting appears to have underscored the recently chilled inter-Korean relations hamstrung by a lack of progress in denuclearization talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
North Korea has blamed South Korea for dragging its feet in implanting summit agreements and seeking active cross-border cooperation in the face of sanctions led by the U.S. The North has been unresponsive to Seoul's offers for talks and exchanges in recent months.
Experts say that omitting inter-Korean relations in Kim's remarks appears to signify the North's intention to focus more on dealing with the U.S., believing progress in talks with Washington would automatically lead to advances in cross-border ties.
Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul said in his New Year's Day address on Thursday that the two Koreas need to recover their mutual trust and create a space for inter-Korean relations.
"Only when the trust between the South and the North is recovered and a space is secured will we be able to prepare a future for co-prosperity of the two Koreas as well as denuclearization negotiations and a lasting peace regime," he said.
Hours after the North reported on Kim's remarks at the party meeting, the ministry issued a statement vowing Seoul's continued efforts to contribute to progress in denuclearization negotiations and also to improve relations between the two Koreas.
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