North Korea reopens border hotline with South Korea
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years on Wednesday as the rivals explored the possibility of sitting down and talking after months of acrimony and fears of war.
The sudden signs of easing animosity, however, came as US President Donald Trump threatened Kim with nuclear war in response to his threat earlier this week.
In his New Year’s address on Monday, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. But he also said he has a “nuclear button” on his desk and that all US territory is within striking distance of his nuclear weapons, comments Trump latched onto on Tuesday when he boasted of a bigger and more powerful “nuclear button” than Kim’s.
The recent softening of contact between the rival Koreas may show a shared interest in improved ties, but there’s no guarantee tensions will ease. There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, but even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations and stalemate.
Kim’s latest announcement, which was read by a senior Pyongyang official on state TV, followed a South Korean offer on Tuesday of high-level talks with North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month’s Winter Olympics in the South and discuss other inter-Korean issues.
Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, cited Kim as welcoming South Korea’s overture and ordering officials to reopen a communication channel at the border village of Panmunjom.
Ri also quoted Kim as ordering officials to promptly take substantial measures with South Korea out of a “sincere stand and honest attitude,” according to the North’s state TV and news agency.
South Korea quickly welcomed Kim’s decision and later confirmed that the two Koreas began preliminary contacts on the channel. During their 20-minute communication, liaison officials of the two Koreas exchanged their names and examined their communication lines to make sure they were working, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry.