North Korea reached out to South Korea Wednesday via a diplomatic hotline that has been dormant for years, clearing a path for dialogue between the two Koreas.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued an order to re-open the line Wednesday, CNN reported, citing North Korean state media and South Korean reports. The North made two phone calls to the South, first to check technical issues and again to close business for the day. It is unclear what the two sides discussed outside of the connection, but it appears the talks were not overly substantive.
The two Koreas lost contact in February 2016, as North Korea severed ties after South Korea closed the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex in response to the North’s nuclear test one month prior.
South Korea has tried calling twice a day every day for two years, but no one has answered the phone in North Korea.
Kim called for talks between North and South Korea during his New Year’s address, changing course after ignoring South Korea’s offers to talk for most of last year. Kim also expressed an interest in sending a delegation to participate in the upcoming Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.
South Korea responded positively to the idea, proposing talks in the Panmunjom truce village next Tuesday.
While President Donald Trump said talks could be good news or bad news, leaving the door open to either possibility, the Department of State said that it is suspicious of Kim’s intentions.
“If the two countries decide that they want to have talks, that would be certainly their choice,” Department of State spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Tuesday, “Kim Jong Un may be trying to drive a wedge of some sort between the two nations, between our nation and the Republic of Korea. I can assure you that that will not happen … We are very sceptical of Kim Jong Un’s sincerity in sitting down and having talks.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that the U.S. will not take talks seriously unless if the parties involved do not take steps to address North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal.
“We won’t take any of the talks seriously if they don’t do something to ban all nuclear weapons in North Korea,” Haley said Tuesday, “North Korea can talk to anyone they want, but the U.S. is not going to recognize it or acknowledge it until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons that they have.”
Among Korea watchers, there are different theories circulating as to why North Korea is suddenly reaching out to South Korea after ignoring the South’s proposals for talks throughout most of last year. Some suggest that the North intends to drive a wedge between South Korea and the U.S., weakening the alliance. Others argue that North Korea may be seeking sanctions relief, as punitive measures continue to cripple the North Korean economy.
Kim has yet to tip his hand, so his ultimate aim remains unclear for the time being.
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