US President Donald Trump has sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un detailing a plan to develop ties, state media reported Sunday citing Kim's powerful sister, but she warned their good personal relationship is not enough, as a hiatus in disarmament talks drags on.
The statement by Kim Yo Jong came a day after the nuclear-armed North fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Saturday, the latest such action it has taken this year.
"In the letter, he... explained his plan to propel the relations between the two countries of the DPRK and the US and expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work," an apparent reference to the coronavirus pandemic, Jong said in the statement reported by the North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
A senior US administration official confirmed Trump sent a letter to Kim, "consistent with his efforts to engage global leaders during the ongoing pandemic.
"The President looks forward to continued communications with Chairman Kim", the official said.
While the letter reflects "excellent" ties between the two leaders, Jong warned that broader relations between their two nations are different.
"We try to hope for the day when the relations between the two countries would be as good as the ones between the two top leaders, but it has to be left to time and be watched whether it can actually happen," Jong said.
Analysts say the North has been continuing to refine its weapons capabilities more than a year after a summit between Kim and Trump broke down in Hanoi. The deadlock is over sanctions relief and what North Korea would be willing to give up in return.
Pyongyang is under multiple sets of United Nations, US and other sanctions over its weapons programmes.
Jong praised Trump's "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."
But she said "nobody knows how much the personal relations would change and lead the prospective relations between the two countries, and it is not something good to make hasty conclusion or be optimistic about it."
Trump, whose closeness to Kim and other global strongmen has raised concerns at home, is seeking re-election in November's US election.
Jong said bilateral dialogue "would be thinkable only when the equilibrium is kept dynamically and morally and justice ensured between the two countries, not merely by the personal letter between the two leaders."
Pyongyang set Washington a unilateral end-2019 deadline to offer fresh concessions, and in late December Kim declared the North no longer considered itself bound by its moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
On Saturday Kim observed "the demonstration fire of (a) tactical guided weapon," to demonstrate the characteristics "and power of a new weapon system to be delivered" to army units, KCNA reported on Sunday.
In addition, Kim spoke of "tactical and strategic weapon systems in the development stage," the report said.
Late last year, Kim had threatened a demonstration of a "new strategic weapon" soon.
After the latest test, a US State Department official reiterated Washington's call on the North "to avoid provocations, abide by obligations under UN Security Council Resolutions, and return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization."
Seoul's unification ministry earlier this month said the drills are aimed at strengthening "internal solidarity" while "attracting the attention of the US and South Korea and pressuring their change in attitude."
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told AFP earlier that Pyongyang is likely struggling with the pandemic, even though the regime has not reported any cases.
The UN Security Council has said it would make humanitarian exemptions to sanctions on North Korea to help it fight the coronavirus.