President Moon Jae-in is seeing his role as a facilitator in the denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea diminishing as Pyongyang has made it clear that there is no room for his government to meddle.
"South Korea, not a member of the U.S. clan, went so frivolous as to convey the greetings from the U.S. president. It seems it still has lingering hope for playing the role of mediator in the DPRK-U.S. relations," Kim Kye-gwan, a former North Korean chief nuclear envoy and currently a foreign ministry adviser, said in a statement released by the (North) Korean Central News Agency, Saturday.
The DPRK is the official name of the North, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"It is somehow presumptuous for South Korea to meddle in the personal relations between Chairman of the State Affairs Commission Kim Jong-un and U.S. President (Donald) Trump," Kim said.
He added his country had already received the greeting through a "special liaison channel" for the two leaders to communicate and Seoul may not have known its existence.
Last week, Cheong Wa Dae announced that Trump had some congratulatory words for Kim on the occasion of his Jan. 8 birthday and had asked President Moon to deliver the message, raising speculation that the letter may be a breakthrough in the impasse in inter-Korean relations.
The remarks were the North's first official response to President Moon's New Year address last Tuesday, in which he offered inter-Korean cooperation in the border area; the joint hosting of the 2032 Summer Olympics; a joint registration of the Demilitarized Zone on UNESCO's World Heritage List; and Kim's reciprocal visit to the South.
The statement has thrown cold water on Moon's plans to enhance inter-Korean cooperation through low-key events.
Worsening the government's situation are growing concerns that Pyongyang has returned to its traditional strategy of "tongmi bongnam" in Korean, which means engaging the U.S. while isolating the South.
Two years ago, President Moon was under spotlight for flipping the script on the North's tactics by making the South a vital intermediary ― he brokered the first-ever U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore in June 2018.
However, since then, the North Korean regime has refused to sit down with its southern counterpart in frustration over the latter's half-hearted efforts to persuade the U.S. to ease economic sanctions on the North. In his New Year address, the North Korean dictator did not mention inter-Korean relations.
In response to such speculation, a government official said the North's statement should not be accepted literally.
"Although Kim Kye-gwan's remarks were harsh criticism, it is seen as a push for the South to come up with tangible outcomes," the official said.
Cheong Wa Dae has yet to officially respond to the statement, but the President is expected to mention something about it during his New Year press conference scheduled for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Kim Kye-gwan delivered a strong message to the U.S. as well, saying dialogue can only be resumed when Washington fully accepts Pyongyang's demands.
He also said the North would never engage in negotiations to close its core nuclear facilities for partial sanctions relief.