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North Korea’s Overture Raises Hopes, but Huge Obstacles Loom

North Korea’s Overture Raises Hopes, but Huge Obstacles Loom

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Binoculars facing North Korea on Thursday at an observatory in Paju, South Korea. Credit Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SEOUL, South Korea — On both sides of the divided Korean Peninsula, the timing seems right.

The New Year’s Day proposal by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, for direct talks with South Korea came as sanctions appear to be biting, with reports of shortages in the North and new pressure by Washington to intercept ships engaged in fuel smuggling.

The initiative was quickly embraced by South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, who sees his first concrete chance to carry out his campaign agenda of engaging with the North, while also easing tensions as Mr. Trump’s warlike threats have rattled his country.

In a telephone message delivered through the restored cross-border hotline on Friday, North Korea accepted the South’s proposal that the two sides begin talks on Tuesday, South Korean officials said. The talks, to be held in the border village Panmunjom, will be the first high-level inter-Korean dialogue in two years.

But if this is a potential opening for a thaw, it is a small one. Skepticism abounds not only in Washington but also among South Koreans.

Many in the country are mindful of how the so-called sunshine policy of two previous progressive leaders, Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, failed to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, and remain wary of its revival. As Mr. Moon learned from his predecessors’ experiences, any South Korean leader accused of risking the alliance with Washington in trying to improve ties with the North could become a lightning rod of conservative ire.

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