North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made an apparent offer on Thursday to hold a summit with South Korea’s president, a move that seemed intended to pressure Seoul to make concessions to advance the countries’ frosty relations.
In a new-year speech, Mr. Kim said he was willing to hold the “highest-level talks” with South Korea “depending on the mood and circumstances.”
A meeting of Mr. Kim with South Korean President Park Geun-hye would be the first inter-Korean summit since Mr. Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il , met former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun in Pyongyang in October 2007.
The current North Korean leader has yet to meet a foreign head of state since taking power in late 2011.
In Washington, where officials have accused North Korea of sponsoring a recent computer-systems attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment, officials reacted cautiously to Mr. Kim’s comments. “We support improved inter-Korean relations,” a State Department official said Thursday.
While improving ties with the South featured heavily in Mr. Kim’s 30-minute speech on state television, he gave no indication that Pyongyang was willing to rein in its belligerence toward Seoul. Mr. Kim said North Korea would stick to its policy of giving priority to military strength and the development of nuclear weapons.
Instead, Mr. Kim’s proposal for talks appeared to be conditional on South Korea taking steps frequently demanded by Pyongyang, such as muzzling criticism of the North Korean regime by Seoul’s media and shutting down anti-Pyongyang activists. In the speech, Mr. Kim also specifically called for an end to annual military exercises in South Korea held with U.S. forces, a common demand from North Korea.
“In a tense mood [created by] such war-preparatory exercises…North-South relations can’t move forward,” Mr. Kim said.
While Seoul routinely rejects demands from North Korea to end military drills and censor its citizens, it has continued to seek talks under Ms. Park’s policy of open-ended engagement. This week, South Korean Unification Minister Ryoo Kihl-jae proposed that senior officials from the two Koreas meet in January to discuss a range of issues necessary for reunification. Pyongyang has yet to respond to that request.