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Pyongyang calling: North Korea reopens hotline to South

January 3, 2018

North Korea has reopened a cross-border communication channel with South Korea despite the spike in animosity between the two countries in 2017. The main topic of conversation is set to be the Winter Olympics.

A South Korean official checks out a cross-border hotline with North Korea
Image: picture-alliance/Yonhapnews/Agency

North Korea has restored a cross-border hotline to the South to discuss its participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The hotline, which is situated at the shared border village of Panmunjom, was cut by the North in 2016. The two countries have not used the channel in more than a year due to increasing tensions over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The announcement came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un extended the South a rare olive branch by offering to meet to discuss sending a delegation to the Games. South Korea stressed that it was well prepared should North Korea decide to take part in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

Lee Hee Beom, head of the 2018 Olympic organizing committee, said they had been preparing for the North's attendance at what he described as the "largest-ever winter festival in history" with a cruise ship ready to transport and accommodate its athletes.

Organizers have billed the Winter Games as a "peace Olympics" and have been keen for the North to take part. The main venues are located just 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the heavily fortified border.

On Tuesday, the South offered to hold high-level talks with the North in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on January 9 to discuss "matters of mutual interest" – more than a month ahead of the Winter Olympics.

These would be the first such talks between the two nations since December 2015.

South Korea welcomes Kim Jong Un's willingness to talk

North Korea takes credit for improved relations

Ri Son Gwon, chairman of North Korea's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, said the North was going to try to engage with the South in a "sincere and careful" manner while "upholding the will of the supreme leader," referring to Kim Jong Un.

South Korean presidential spokesman Yoon Young Chan meanwhile told the Yonhap news agency that he believed this signaled "a move toward an environment where communication will be possible at all times."

Talks after a year of tensions

The current development is widely seen as a positive sign suggesting that the two Koreas are inching toward a sense of rapprochement. South Korean media, citing a North Korean official, reported that Kim Jong Un had welcomed Seoul's support for his peace offer.

There have been repeated attempts in the past by the rival countries to hold talks, which have often end in a cul-de-sac, with both sides directing accusations at each other.

Read more: Korea 2017: 'Rocketman' Kim vs. 'mentally deranged' Trump

International consent

Both China and the International Olympic Committee welcomed the possibility of talks.

US President Donald Trump said that he was also tentatively open to talks between the two countries.

"Perhaps that is good news, perhaps not - we will see!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

Pyongyang is currently facing some of the strongest sanctions ever imposed by the UN and US against the hermit kingdom after its missile and nuclear tests in 2017 caused global concern.

Meanwhile US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said she hoped that under these latest circumstances an upcoming North Korean missile test would not go ahead.

"But if it does we must bring more measures to bear on the North Korean regime," she added.

"We will never accept a nuclear North Korea."

Ambassador Haley stressed that Washington would not take the talks seriously "if they don't do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea".

Read more: US wants North Korea to give up nuclear weapons as pre-condition of talks

Kim Jong Un issues threat to US

ss/rt (AP, AFP, dpa)