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Seoul-Pyongyang hotline likely to be discussed this week

The establishment of a hotline between the leaders of the two Koreas is expected to be a key agenda item at working-level talks slated for the weekend, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Wednesday.

The two Koreas agreed to hold two working-level meetings this week to hammer out details in preparation for the inter-Korean summit on April 27. Talks on protocol, security and media coverage are to be held Thursday, while cross-border communications will be the focus of a meeting slated for Saturday, according to Seoul. 

From left: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)
From left: South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (Yonhap)

“Officials are expected to discuss technical aspects of the hotline in order to make such a communication line possible,” Baik Tae-hyun, a Unification Ministry spokesperson, told a press briefing.

The establishment of the hotline at the offices of President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is one of the inter-Korean agreements reached during a visit by South Korean special envoys to Pyongyang last month.

National Security Office chief Chung Eui-yong, who led the envoys, said the aim of the hotline is to ease military tensions near the border. The two leaders plan to contact each other through the line before the summit, he added.

Late on Tuesday, North Korea postponed working-level talks on protocol, security and media coverage to Thursday on the southern side of Panmunjeom, instead of the previously agreed Wednesday.

The South’s presidential office Cheong Wa Dae interpreted the move as a “request to more fully prepare” for working-level talks.

“The upcoming talks deal with items such as itinerary, security, and media coverage, so it must be fully prepared for,” a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters on the condition of anonymity, adding that the remark was a personal opinion and North Korea has yet to provide an official explanation for the decision.

Experts expect the revival of the hotline to contribute to smoother management of the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula.

“The restoration of a hotline between the two leaders of the South and North will become the foundation for stronger inter-Korean trust and respect,” said Kim Dong-yup, a professor at the Institute for Far East Studies of Kyungnam University.

The hotline was first established after late President Kim Dae-jung reached an agreement with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il during the historical first inter-Korean summit on June 13, 2000. If the summit takes place in April as planned, Kim Jong-un will be the first North Korean leader to cross the inter-Korean border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

The upcoming summit will be held at the border village for the first time, as previous summits in 2000 and 2007 were both held in Pyongyang.

The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and announcing a formal end to the Korean War are some key issues expected to be raised at the Moon-Kim discussion table.

The two Koreas technically remain at war, as the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

In January, a separate hotline installed in the truce village of Panmunjeom was restored for the first time in more than two years, after the North Korean leader expressed willingness to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in his New Year’s address.

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)
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