South Korea Seeks to Improve Ties Despite North's Threat

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un
In this March 2, 2019, file photo, Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un attends a wreath-laying ceremony at Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi, Vietnam. (Jorge Silva/Pool Photo via AP, File)

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea said Monday it’ll keep pushing to improve ties and resume talks with rival North Korea, despite the North's threat to rekindle animosities if Seoul holds its summertime military drills with the United States.

On Sunday night, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned the drills would seriously undermine efforts to restore mutual trust between the Koreas and becloud prospects for better ties if the training is launched as scheduled this month. Her statement raised a question about the sincerity of North Korea’s recent decision to reopen long-stalled communication channels with South Korea.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Monday the exact timing, size and other details of the drills haven’t been fixed and that they were the issues that must be determined by South Korean and U.S. authorities. Spokesman Boo Seung-Chan repeated his previous statement that Seoul and Washington are examining factors like the pandemic’s current status, diplomat efforts to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and South Korea-U.S. military readiness.

Lee Jong-joo, a spokeswoman at the Unification Ministry, said Seoul views the communication channels’ restoration as a starting point for restoring long-suspended ties between the Koreas. She said Seoul will steadily seek to resume talks with North Korea, but without haste.

North Korea sees regular military drills between South Korea and the United States as an invasion rehearsal and often responds them with its own weapons tests. In the past few years, however, South Korea and the U.S. have canceled or downsized some of their training to support the now-dormant diplomacy on ending the North Korean nuclear crisis or because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inter-Korean ties flourished after North Korea reached out to South Korea and the United States in 2018 for talks on its nuclear program. North Korea later cut off ties with South Korea after its larger nuclear diplomacy with the United States stalled in 2019.

Last Tuesday, the two Koreas restored their phone and fax lines after a 13-month hiatus, raising hopes of improved ties between the divided Koreas. But some experts say North Korea merely aims to use South Korea to let it convince the United States to make concessions before and when the stalled North Korea-U.S. nuclear diplomacy resumes eventually.

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