North Korea revives hotline with Seoul to discuss Olympics
Seoul: North Korea used a hotline with South Korea for the first time in about two years to make initial contact after Kim Jong Un proposed sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics next month.
South Korea said officials from both countries spoke for about 20 minutes to conduct technical checks, and another call could follow later on Wednesday. President Moon Jae-in’s government has proposed holding talks on 9 January at the border village of Panmunjom, which would be the first formal gathering between the two sides since 2015.
The move shows further progress after Kim called for improved relations with South Korea in a New Year’s Day address. Tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program had threatened to hang over the Games in Pyeongchang, a city about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the border dividing the Korean Peninsula.
The detente between the two Koreas comes even as US President Donald Trump continues a war of words with Kim, who warned on Monday that the nuclear button is “always on my desk.” Trump responded on Tuesday night, saying on Twitter that he had “a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
Trump has expressed skepticism about Kim’s call for talks, with an administration official saying North Korea is aiming to drive a wedge in the US-South Korean alliance. The US wants to avoid anything that might undermine its pressure campaign of sanctions and military threats to halt Kim’s nuclear program.
South Korean foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha spoke by phone with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson to discuss recent developments regarding North Korea. The officials reaffirmed their commitment to a peaceful and diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue through “watertight” cooperation, South Korea’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday.
A Trump administration official said that the US is in close touch with South Korea on a unified response to North Korea. The US has about 30,000 troops in South Korea and provides a nuclear deterrent.
Following Kim’s call on Wednesday to reopen the hotline between the countries, several stocks connected with North Korea gained. J.Estina Co., a jewellery and accessory maker, jumped 5.1%. Its factory in the jointly run Gaeseong industrial park has been closed for almost two years.
Moon sparred with Trump last year over offers of dialogue to North Korea, and has repeatedly sought to reassure his citizens that he’s doing everything to prevent a war. He has long pushed for North Korea to attend the Olympics.
Besides discussing the Olympics, South Korea is looking to improve overall relations with North Korea during the discussions. While Kim may seek an easing of sanctions and the cancellation of joint military exercises between the US and South Korea, analysts said easier measures would include humanitarian assistance and reuniting separated families.
Earlier on Wednesday, Kim welcomed Moon’s follow-up steps for talks between the two countries in a statement on the Korean Central News Agency that included none of the usual insults that North Korea has often used to describe its southern neighbour.
“We will try to keep close communications with the south Korean side from sincere stand and honest attitude, true to the intention of our supreme leadership, and deal with the practical matters related to the dispatch of our delegation,” KCNA said. It called the talks “the first meaningful and good step for improved north-south relations.” Bloomberg