(Photo: Reuters/KRT via Reuters TV)
In a rare but not an unprecedented move, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called to end the decades-long confrontation with South Korea and boost the economy of his impoverished nation.
"An important issue in putting an end to the division of the country and achieving its reunification is to remove confrontations between the north and the south," said Kim, who came to power after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December 2011.
"Past records of inter-Korean relations show that confrontation between fellow countrymen leads to nothing but war," Reuters quoted Kim as saying in a televised address for the New Year.
This comes weeks after South Korea elected Park Geun-hye as president. The new president is a conservative and daughter of assassinated military ruler Park Chung-hee, whom Kim Il-sung had tried to kill during their Cold War confrontation.
The New Year's address was the first in 19 years by a North Korean leader. But this is not the first time North Korea has extended a gesture of peace, and it may not indicate a change in its foreign policy that has been against the United States and U.S. ally South Korea.
North Korea provoked neighbors in the region and the West last month after it launched another satellite, believed to be cover for a ballistic missile test and causing concerns in the United States and elsewhere. Korean Central News Agency quoted the Korean Committee for Space Technology as announcing that the North "plans to launch another working satellite, which has been manufactured true to the behest of great leader comrade Kim Jong Il with our own efforts and our own technology."
North Korea's latest gesture "apparently contains a message that he [Kim] has an intention to dispel the current face-off [between the two Koreas], which could eventually be linked with the North's call for aid" from the South, Kim Tae-woo, a North Korea expert at the state-funded Korea Institute for National Unification, was quoted as saying. "But such a move does not necessarily mean any substantive change in the North Korean regime's policy towards the South."
The authoritarian communist nation relies heavily on foreign aid due to the lack of food distribution system, price rise and international sanctions over its weapons programs.
"Kim Jong-un's New Year's message was different in format but not in content," Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, was quoted as saying. It offered further evidence that Kim is following in the footsteps of his grandfather, rather than his father, he added.