Closed in February of 2016 in response to rising tensions, the direct hotline between North and South Korea was reopened today, offering the first such line of direct communication in nearly two years.
For the second day in a row, North and South Korea continued their major diplomatic breakthrough by chatting on the phone.
North Korea initiated a phone call with its neighbor today (Jan. 4) at around 9:30am local time to check whether the line was working, according to (link in Korean) a South Korean official with the country’s unification ministry. When the South asked the other side whether they had any updates, the North Korean side said “no,” but that if there were they would contact the South again, and then hung up.
Nothing was said on the call regarding president Moon Jae-in’s proposal to hold inter-Korean talks on Jan. 9, or North Korea’s participation in next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, according to the official. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his New Year’s Day speech that he is ready to send a team to the Pyeongchang Olympics.
The latest telephone exchange comes after the two sides talked for the first time in two years yesterday over a special hotline located in the Demilitarized Zone. There were two calls. In one they checked for connection issues, and in the other the North suggested wrapping things up for the day.
Up until then, South Korea said it had been calling the North twice daily since February 2016, when Seoul shut down operations at the jointly operated Kaesong Industrial Complex. Until yesterday, no one had ever picked up.
The reopening of the hotline is extremely significant, particularly coming amid offers of bilateral negotiations between the two nations. This suggests North Korea is warming to diplomatic overtures from South Korea.
The near term focus of the hotline, officials say, is to discuss the possibility of North Korean participation in the Winter Olympics, held next month in South Korea. This could serve as a practical test case for closer ties between the two nations, leading to serious talks on all sorts of matters of import.
Which isn’t sitting well with the US. Though some State Department officials have conceded that it’s really not for the US to prevent two other nations from talking to one another, other Trump Administration officials have said they oppose any talks that don’t require North Korea to disarm unilaterally as a precondition.