Asia Pacific

Trump wishes North Korea's Kim a happy birthday, but nuclear talks still on ice

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

U.S. President Donald Trump has reportedly wished North Korean leader Kim Jong Un a happy birthday via South Korean intermediaries, the first known exchange between the two since their June meeting at the Demilitarized Zone that divides the two Koreas.

South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong said Friday that Seoul had conveyed a message by Trump to Kim wishing him a happy birthday, which was believed to be Thursday.

Returning from a visit to Washington on Friday, Chung said that Trump requested during a meeting this week at the White House that South Korean President Moon Jae-in deliver the message to Kim.

Chung didn’t disclose specifics about the message, but said Seoul sent it to Pyongyang on Thursday through “proper means.”

It’s unclear if the latest message will do anything to improve the prospect of the North returning to deadlocked nuclear talks with the U.S. Some experts believe the price for returning to the stalled talks has increased exponentially.

“Perhaps the door has been left ajar — if only a crack — because Trump has so far been conciliatory toward Kim in his public comments” said Duyeon Kim, a senior adviser for Northeast Asia and nuclear policy at the International Crisis Group.

Kim’s birthday is believed to be Jan. 8, though his secretive regime has never confirmed the date. The U.S. government lists Kim’s birth year as 1984, making him 36 years old this year.

Kim expressed deep frustrations in a key policy speech last week over the stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration and vowed to bolster his nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure.

He also declared that his country is no longer bound by its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests, while also warning of a “new strategic weapon” that he vowed to soon reveal to the world.

Despite the standstill in talks, Trump and Kim have both said they have a good personal relationship. Trump has boasted about the “beautiful” letters he has received from Kim.

The International Crisis Group’s Kim said that in his speech, the North Korean leader had left some wiggle room for diplomacy — but under the condition that ‘the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,’ code for Washington ending all combined military exercises, sanctions, and criticisms about human rights violations.

This condition, combined with the moratorium statement and the warning of a new weapon “foreshadows an even higher price tag for North Korea’s nuclear weapons if Pyongyang decides to abandon them one day; the price for resuming negotiations might have also jumped,” she wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on Thursday.