North Korea leader orders hotline with South reopened
North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un has given an order to reopen a cross-border telephone hotline with South Korea, as Pyongyang and Seoul make overtures to one another.
An unidentified North Korean official said in a televised statement that Kim had on Wednesday ordered the telephone hotline restored in Panmunjom, the “truce village” that is located at the heavily-guarded demilitarized zone (DMZ), where the Koreas have historically held talks.
South Korean Unification Ministry spokesman was also quoted by AFP as saying on Wednesday that North Korea’s Central Television (KCTV) “said the North will open a dialog channel with the South at 3:30 p.m. (0630 GMT) today.”
The telephone line had long been a contact point for exchanging messages between the two Koreas. The North, however, stopped using it after the South’s ousted president Park Geun-hye shut down a joint industrial complex in the North Korean town of Kaesong in early 2016.
Later in the day, the South’s Unification Ministry said in a statement that Seoul had begun preliminary contacts with Pyongyang on the reopened communication system.
It said officials were first trying to examine whether the communication lines were working well.
The two Koreas have long had strained ties. Tensions recently skyrocketed with repeated North Korean missile and nuclear tests and increased South Korean joint military action with the United States.
However, a series of overtures between the two Koreas began when Kim used his annual New Year address to express interest in dialog with the South as well as in North Korean participation in the Winter Olympic Games, to be held in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang from February 9 to 25.
South Korea quickly responded by proposing high-level talks with the North on January 9.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has long favored engagement to ease the tensions with the North, earlier on Tuesday welcomed Kim’s suggestion of an opportunity to launch new dialog.
North Korea is yet to respond to the South’s specific offer of high-level talks. In his address, Kim had merely said the Winter Olympics could provide a reason for officials from the two Koreas “to meet in the near future,” without specifying the level of potential talks.
The last high-level talks between the two neighbors was held in December 2015 to ease border tensions but ended without any agreement.
Over the past two years, Pyongyang has quickly advanced its nuclear and missile weapons programs to counter threats from the US and its regional allies — South Korea included.
Washington has now sought to downplay the prospect of talks between the Koreas, saying talks are futile if North Korea does not denuclearize.