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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in penned letters khổng lồ each other khổng lồ signal peaceful relations.Korea Summit Press Pool via AP, File
SEOUL, South Korea — The leaders of the rival Koreas exchanged letters expressing hope for improved bilateral relations, which plummeted in the past three years amid a freeze in nuclear negotiations & North Korea’s accelerating weapons development.

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North Korea’s state media said leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday received a personal letter from outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in và replied on Thursday with his own letter appreciating Moon’s peace efforts during his term.

Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Friday their exchange of letters showed their “deep trust.” Moon’s office also confirmed that he exchanged letters with Kim but didn’t immediately say what was said.

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen since a series of North Korean weapons tests this year, including its first flight-test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March, reviving the nuclear brinkmanship aimed at forcing the U.S. To accept it as a nuclear power and to remove crippling sanctions.

South Korea’s military has also detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it partially dismantled weeks before Kim’s first meeting with then-President Donald Trump in June 2018, a possible indicator that the country is preparing to lớn resume nuclear explosive tests.

Moon met Kim three times in 2018 và lobbied hard to help set up Kim’s meetings with Trump. But the diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019 in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility, which would have amounted to lớn a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

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North Korea test-fired a new tactical guided missile on April 17, 2022.Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP

Kim has since vowed to lớn bolster his nuclear deterrent khổng lồ counter “gangster-like” U.S. Pressure và sped up his weapons development despite limited resources & pandemic-related difficulties.

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North Korea also severed all cooperation with Moon’s government while expressing anger over the continuation of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which were curtailed in recent years khổng lồ promote diplomacy with the North, và Seoul’s inability lớn wrest concessions from Washington on its behalf.

KCNA said Moon wrote in his letter to lớn Kim that he will continue to support efforts for Korean reunification based on their joint declarations for inter-Korean peace issued after their meetings in 2018.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shows off missiles during a military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea on Jan. 14, 2021.Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File

Kim & Moon shared views that “inter-Korean relations would improve và develop as desired & anticipated by the (Korean) nation if the (North & the South) make tireless efforts with hope,” KCNA said.

South Korea’s next leader could take a harder line toward Pyongyang. Conservative President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who takes office on May 10, has rejected pursuing “talks for talks’ sake” with North Korea & vowed to lớn bolster Seoul’s alliance with Washington và resume their full-scale military exercises to counter the North’s nuclear threat.

Analysts say North Korea is also likely khổng lồ escalate its weapons demonstrations in coming weeks or months khổng lồ force a reaction from the Biden administration, which has been focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine & a rivalry with China.

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South Korea’s President-Elect Yoon Suk Yeol has vowed to lớn bolster the country’s military.Jung Yeon-je/Pool Photo via AP

Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, traveled lớn Seoul this week for meetings with senior South Korean officials và said they agreed on the need for a strong response lớn counter North Korea’s “destabilizing behavior.”

After maintaining a conciliatory tone for years, Moon’s government objected more strongly khổng lồ North Korea’s weapons tests this year, criticizing Kim’s government for ending its self-imposed suspension of long-range missile testing và urging a return khổng lồ diplomacy.

Seoul has also accused North Korea of destroying South Korean-owned facilities at the North’s diamond Mountain resort where they ran tours together until 2008. Kim in 2019 called the South Korean facilities there “shabby” và ordered them destroyed, though the work was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.