|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump meet at Panmunjeom in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, June 30, 2019. / Korea Times file|
By Kang Seung-woo
U.S. President Donald Trump's personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to offer cooperation in fighting the coronavirus is raising speculation that Washington may be seeking to reopen nuclear disarmament dialogue with Pyongyang.
At the very least, some critics say he is trying to preserve the status quo with the country ahead of the presidential election in November in order to portray the North Korea talks as a major foreign policy win.
Since the collapse of the Hanoi summit between the two leaders in February 2019, nuclear diplomacy between the two countries has stalled. The North has carried out a series of short-range missile tests, the latest of which occurred Saturday, while Trump is now focused on his reelection. And what the two countries pay have in common is containment of the COVID-19 outbreak, as per Trump's letter.
"We regard it as a good judgment and proper action for the U.S. president to make efforts to keep the good relations he had with our chairman by sending a personal letter again at a time as now when big difficulties and challenges lie in the way of developing the bilateral relations, and think that this should be highly estimated," Kim Yo-jong, the North Korean leader's sister and first vice department director of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party, said in a statement released Sunday.
This is the second time that Trump has written to Kim this year following a birthday message in January.
Kim Yo-jung also said Trump had explained "his plan to propel the relations between the two countries" and expressed his intent to render cooperation in anti-pandemic work.
"President Trump said that there were difficulties in letting his thoughts known because communications were not made often recently. He expressed his willingness to keep in close touch with the chairman in the future," she added, praising his letter as a "good example showing the special and firm personal relations" with her brother.
While keeping economic sanctions on the North, the U.S. has expressed its intent to help the country battle the coronavirus pandemic.
Last month, the U.S. State Department said the U.S. was prepared to facilitate the approval of assistance from American and international health organizations, citing the vulnerability of the North Korean people to the coronavirus outbreak; followed by its boss Mike Pompeo saying last week that the U.S. has offered humanitarian assistance to the North and will continue to reach out to the country.
In addition, the statement hinted that Trump may have proposed a new version of U.S. policy toward the North, which could bring the reclusive country back to the negotiating table.
However, it seems from the letter that the plan was not enough for the North, as in the statement Kim Yo-jong threatened that bilateral ties would continue to worsen without impartiality and balance.
Rather than going into detail regarding his policy, Trump may have remained theoretical about improving relations between the two countries.
In that respect, some political watchers say the U.S. president's letter was aimed at maintaining the status quo ― the North does not launch long-range missiles or test nuclear devices ― to prevent its military provocations from adversely affecting his reelection campaign.
Trump has trumpeted engagement with the North as a diplomatic achievement by his administration, but on Dec. 8, he warned of the country interfering with the election.
"Although keeping the dialogue momentum going, the Trump letter is more of his effort to prevent the North from crossing a red line on its long-range missile or nuclear activities," Park Won-gon, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said.
Park also said the personal letter cannot have suggested any specific U.S. policy changes that are palatable to the North.
"Kim Yo-jong's response means the North will take its own way and the U.S. needs to offer more concessions," he added.