On Friday, North Korea’s official, outward-facing Korean Central News Agency ran a statement attributed to Kim Yo Jong, leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, stating that her brother had received a “personal letter” from U.S. President Donald J. Trump. The statement was the first significant, high-level statement on U.S.-North Korea relations to appear in North Korean state media in weeks.
Kim and Trump have not met in person since a June 30, 2019, meeting at the inter-Korean Demilitarized Zone’s Joint Security Area. The two leaders had two prior summit meetings: one on June 12, 2018, in Singapore, and another at the end of February 2019 in Hanoi, Vietnam. Relations between the United States and North Korea soured after a no-deal summit in Hanoi, with North Korea returning soon thereafter to missile testing, which had been paused for more than 500 days from late 2017 through the entirety of 2018.
According to the North Korean account of Trump’s latest letter to Kim, the U.S. president “explained his plan to propel” the bilateral relationship between the two countries. Trump additionally “expressed his intent” to collaborate with North Korea over the spread of COVID-19, which Pyongyang had earlier described as a threat to its “national survival.”
Senior North Korean officials, though not Kim Jong Un himself, were regularly pictured wearing face masks, even at military exercises earlier this month. During a recent ballistic missile test on Saturday, however, Kim was not seen accompanied by facemask-wearing senior officials, suggesting Pyongyang had assessed that the risk from COVID-19 was contained. North Korea has not acknowledged any COVID-19 infections within its borders to date.
“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 said in her statement.
“In the letter, [Trump] also explained his plan to propel the relations between the two countries of the DPRK and the U.S. and expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work, saying that he was impressed by the efforts made by the Chairman to defend his people from the serious threat of the epidemic,” she added.
As with other prominent North Korean statements in the aftermath of the Hanoi summit, Kim Yo Jong was deliberate in differentiating the bilateral U.S.-North Korea relationship from the personal Kim-Trump relationship, stating that even though the latter might be “firm,” the former remains troubled.
“Fortunately, the personal relations between the two top leaders are not as far away as the relations of confrontation between the two countries, and they are very excellent,” Kim Yo Jong said. “But the relations between the DPRK and the U.S. and their development should not be judged in haste in the light of the personal relations between the two top leaders, and furthermore, neither predictions nor expectations should be made based on them,” she added.