Blue House delivers birthday letter from Trump to Kim Jong-un

Posted on : 2020-01-13 17:35 KST Modified on : 2020-01-13 17:39 KST
Chung Eui-yong briefly meets with US president during Washington visit
Blue House National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong talks to reporters upon arriving at Incheon International Airport from Washington, DC, on Jan. 10. (Yonhap News)
Blue House National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong talks to reporters upon arriving at Incheon International Airport from Washington, DC, on Jan. 10. (Yonhap News)

The Blue House communicated a message to Pyongyang on Jan. 9 from US President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who had his birthday on Jan. 8, it was announced on Jan. 10. The conciliatory message from Trump for Kim’s 36th birthday came at a time when North Korea-US negotiations have come to a standstill and tensions have been rising.

Meeting with reporters at Incheon International Airport on the afternoon of Jan. 10 after returning from a trilateral senior-level security dialogue with Japan in the US, Blue House National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong said he “briefly had the opportunity to meet with President Trump.”

“When we met yesterday [on Jan. 8], the date happened to be Chairman Kim Jong-un’s birthday, which President Trump remembered, and he asked if President Moon Jae-in could please deliver a message to Chairman Kim congratulating him on his birthday,” Chung explained.

“My understanding is that the message may have been communicated to North Korea yesterday through suitable means,” he added.

A Blue House senior official confirmed that the message had been delivered, but added, “I can’t comment on what the content was or through what channel it was delivered.”

The encounter occurred after Trump requested an unscheduled “surprise meeting” while Chung was visiting the White House for the trilateral security discussions. Chung explained that he had participated in close discussions of the Korean Peninsula situation with Trump and other US officials.

“I think we had a very beneficial encounter,” he said.

“We were briefed in detail by the US on the political situation on the Korean Peninsula and in other regions, and we have very close discussions with the US and trilaterally with Japan on resolving the Korean Peninsula denuclearization issue and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula in particular,” he continued.

With Trump’s attention focused on the situation with Iran for now, the message’s delivery may be seen as an effort to manage the situation and prevent him from having to face two “fronts” as frictions with Pyongyang intensify. But the message also appears to hold some meaning in terms of easing political tensions on the peninsula, with Trump reportedly having expressed a conciliatory message stating that he views negotiations with North Korea as an important diplomatic achievement and leaving open the possibility of achieving progress as he watches for North Korea’s response. Trump responded favorably to Pyongyang leaving the door open for negotiations with the US even amid its references to “strategic weapons” and declaration of plans for “independent regeneration” and a “frontal breakthrough offensive” after a plenary session of its Workers’ Party of Korea Central Committee, and the birthday message -- even if it did not include any important context -- could be seen by Pyongyang as a political signal of Trump’s respect for Kim.

Trump asked for letter to be delivered through Moon

Perhaps most notable is the fact that Trump asked for the message to Kim to be delivered through Moon Jae-in, who has announced his intent to achieve progress in inter-Korean relations. In a New Year’s address on Jan. 7, Moon signaled his active commitment to pursuing inter-Korean cooperation efforts, declaring that he “hope[s] South and North can work together to quickly establish the conditions for Chairman Kim to pay a reciprocal visit.” Rooted in the assessment that not everything that could be done within the context of inter-Korean relations has been effectively pursued, the message shared Moon’s proposal to create a minimal space for cooperation between South and North even if no immediate progress takes place in discussions between Pyongyang and Washington. The key question now is what attitudes North Korea and the US show in response.

Chung remained tight-lipped on whether discussions had taken place with the US on loosening North Korea sanctions in connection with inter-Korean cooperation. When asked whether anything had been communicated to the US regarding the inter-Korean cooperation plans Moon had spoken of, Chung said, “I think I’ll have to opportunity to explain more about that later on.”

By Park Min-hee and Seong Yeon-cheol, staff reporters

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