By Joshua Berlinger and Yoonjung Seo, CNN
Updated: Thu, 24 Oct 2019 06:26:27 GMT
Kim Jong Un has praised his "special" relationship with US President Donald Trump, with one of North Korea's most respected diplomats telling state media the two leaders maintain "trust in each other."
Kim Kye Gwan, a former nuclear negotiator who now serves as an adviser to the North Korean leader, said Kim Jong Un and Trump enjoy "close relations" -- a statement that appeared to pin the future of diplomatic talks between Washington and Pyongyang on the two leaders' unique connection.
"I sincerely hope that a motive force to overcome all the obstacles between the DPRK and the US and to advance the bilateral relations in the better direction will be provided on the basis of the close relationship," the longtime diplomat said in a statement published in the country's state-run news agency KCNA, using the acronym for North Korea's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The statement was surprisingly optimistic given working-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang in Sweden collapsed earlier this month.
North Korean diplomats said they broke off those negotiations because of what they described as US intransigence. The State Department disagreed, saying the two sides had a "good discussion."
Unlike his predecessors, Trump has embraced a top-down approach to nuclear negotiations with North Korea in the hopes of solving a problem that has eluded successive US administrations.
North Korea has publicly expressed appreciation for Trump's efforts, but has criticized those around him for appearing infexible. Kim said in an important policy speech in April that he would give the Trump administration until the end of the year to change its negotiating strategy.
Kim Kye Gwan echoed those sentiments in his statement, saying: "The problem is that contrary to the political judgment and intention of President Trump, Washington political circles and DPRK policy makers of the US administration are hostile to the DPRK for no reason, preoccupied with the Cold War mentality and ideological prejudice.
"There is a will, there is a way. We want to see how wisely the US will pass the end of the year."
'A hotchpotch with no national character at all'
The comments were published as Kim Jong Un ordered the demolition of all South Korea-erected buildings at Mount Kumgang, a tourist area that once hosted visitors from the south.
The project attracted millions of dollars of investment from South Korean firms like Hyundai Asan, an important source of revenue for North Korea. The project was suspended in 2008, when a South Korean tourist was shot by North Koreans after she entered a military zone.
Since then, the facilities are believed to have largely sat untouched, though they were used for family reunions last year.
Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed last year to re-open Mount Kumgang "as soon as the conditions allow," but negotiations between the two countries have not progressed as fast as they did in 2018.
After visiting the region, the North Korean leader said facilities around the mountain were "shabby" and likened them to "a hotchpotch with no national character at all, and that they were built like makeshift tents in a disaster-stricken area or isolation wards."
He ordered all structures erected by South Korea to be rebuilt so they "meet our own sentiment and aesthetic taste."
Hyundai Asan said in a statement it was "confused by this sudden announcement" but it would "respond in a calm manner."
South Korea's Unification Ministry also responded Wednesday, saying it was willing to speak with North Korea "anytime to protect South Korean property rights at the resort and to facilitate the resumption of tourism."