In the absence of its vanished dear leader, North Korea’s policy appears to be shifting. Kim Jong Un hasn’t been seen in public since September 3, barring an official video which showed him limping. This has lead to rampant speculation about his health, including reports that he is sick with gout. Unsurprisingly, North Korean officials have denied that their leader is in any way unwell. But of far greater interest than the tyrant’s toes, however, are the decisions that Kim Jong Un’s most powerful deputies are making in his apparent absence. The BBC reports:
North and South Korea have agreed to resume formal high-level talks that had effectively been suspended since February, reports from South Korea say.The agreement came during a surprise visit to South Korea by North Korean officials for the closing ceremony of the Asian Games. […] The visit was led by two top-ranking North Korean officials seen as close aides to leader Kim Jong-un.Both sides were said to have agreed to meet again within the next few weeks.Hwang Pyong-so, seen as the second-most powerful man in North Korea, held talks with Ryoo Kihl-jae, the South’s reunification minister, on Saturday after flying to Incheon to attend the sporting event.
In addition to bringing about the first possible thaw in four years of inter-Korean diplomatic deep freeze, senior officials have also opened the door to nuclear talks, at least nominally. The NYT:
A senior North Korean envoy said Thursday [October 2] that his country was ready to resume six-party talks on its nuclear program, but must maintain its readiness in the face of joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea.
In an interview, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, So Se-pyong, also said that his country was not planning a nuclear test and that reports that its leader, Kim Jong-un, was ill were “fabricated rumors.”
The negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program have stalled, but in Geneva, Mr. So said, “We are ready,” adding, “I think China and Russia and the D.P.R.K. are ready,” referring to his country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He continued: “But America, they don’t like that kind of talks right now. Because America does not like that, so that’s why the countries like South Korea, Japan also are not ready for those talks.”
North Korea promised to abandon its nuclear program in 2005, but it appeared to renege on the agreement when it tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009.
North Korea has one of the world’s most notoriously closed-off regimes, and though we can’t know for sure, it does look like something’s happening within its corridors of power. A North Korea willing to decrease tensions with South Korea and give up its nukes would be a welcome change. There must be a lot of crossed fingers in Seoul.