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In South Korea, Kim Jong-un's New Year speech generates surprise - and doubt

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Mr. Kim, in an address that also focused on the economy, called on South Korea’s “antireunification forces” to “abandon their hostile policy against their fellow countrymen” and pursue “national reconciliation, unity, and reunification.”

While those words are staples of North Korean rhetoric, they were bereft of mention of South Korea’s outgoing president, Lee Myung-bak, or the incoming president, Park Geun-hye, the daughter of the long-ruling dictator Park Chung-hee.

North Korea has repeatedly attacked Mr. Lee with vitriolic language, castigating both him and Ms. Park for suggesting the North give up its missile and nuclear programs as a prerequisite for resuming the massive shipments of food and fertilizer sent by the South during the decade of the Sunshine policy from 1998 to 2008.

Kim Jong-un suggested the need to go back to that era by mentioning the joint declarations signed by South Korean presidents during summits with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang in June 2000 and October 2007. The late Kim Dae-jung pursued the Sunshine policy as president of South Korea from 1998 to 2003, and his successor, Roh Moo-hyun, carried on the policy from 2003 to 2008, at which point the conservative Lee reversed course after a landslide victory over a liberal foe.

Kim Jong-un’s address may hint that North Korea might be willing, in the interest of resumed aid, to concede to South Korean conditions – such as avoiding harsh personal rhetoric, much less threats to attack South Korea in the Yellow Sea, the scene of periodic bloodshed, or across the demilitarized zone that has divided the Koreas since the Korean War ended in an armistice in July 1953.

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