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(LEAD) Seoul closely monitoring N. Korean leader's increased messages toward U.S.: ministry

North Korea 15:11 October 18, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS 2nd photo, unification minister's remarks in paras 11-13)
By Choi Soo-hyang and Chae Yun-hwan

SEOUL, Oct. 18 (Yonhap) -- North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has publicly mentioned the United States more often recently, drawing attention to Pyongyang's next move amid a prolonged deadlock in their nuclear talks, according to South Korea's unification ministry Monday.

The ministry made the assessment in a report to lawmakers for an annual parliamentary audit, calling for an "active response" to resume dialogue in the face of growing volatility in the region.

North Korea conducted four new missile tests in September alone, including what it called a "hypersonic" missile and a long-range cruise missile.

"North Korea's following moves on the U.S. require attention as leader Kim Jong-un's messages on the U.S. have recently increased as well as become more detailed," the ministry said in the report.

The assessment came a week after Kim said there are no grounds to believe why Washington is not hostile toward Pyongyang, though adding that neither South Korea nor the U.S. is its "arch-enemy."

The ministry report also came amid a series of diplomatic activities surrounding the Korean Peninsula with top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan set to meet in Washington this week.

In Seoul, the intelligence chiefs of the three countries were to gather for closed-door talks during which they are expected to discuss North Korea, among other issues.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un gives a lecture to commemorate the 76th founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party on Oct. 10, 2021, in this photo released by the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) the next day. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

Referring to the restoration of the inter-Korean liaison and military hotlines earlier this month, the ministry said the North appears to be seeking ways to resume external activities.

The denuclearization negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled since the collapse of the Hanoi summit between Kim and then U.S. President Donald Trump in February 2019.

The ministry said it will continue efforts to find opportunities, such as the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, to restart the inter-Korean and U.S.-North Korea talks.

Unification Minister Lee In-young said South Korea could also consider providing coronavirus vaccines to North Korea.

"The possibility is growing as we have a certain social consensus and are reaching a stage of securing enough (vaccines)," the minister said during the audit session at the National Assembly, adding that the North's willingness to accept the support is also important.

On the North's protest against South Korea's combined exercise with the U.S. and introduction of new weapons, Lee said such issues will have to be discussed in detail through inter-Korean defense dialogue.

When the talks resume, Seoul will also push to discuss the North's blowing up of an inter-Korean liaison office in its border city of Kaesong and the killing of a South Korean fisheries official who went adrift in waters north of the inter-Korean border, the ministry said.

Regarding North Korea's long-enforced tight border controls due to the pandemic, the ministry said the North is preparing to reopen its train routes with China.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it has begun the shipment of COVID-19 medical supplies to North Korea through the Chinese port of Dalian.

"(North Korea) needs cooperation with the international community to fight COVID-19 and stabilize its people's living conditions, though its food situation is expected to be better than last year considering this year's improved weather," the ministry said.

Unification Minister Lee In-young takes an oath during an inspection of the ministry at the National Assembly in Seoul on Oct. 18, 2021, in this pool photo. (Yonhap)


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