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US welcomes reopening of inter-Korean communication lines as 'positive step'

This photo, provided by the unification ministry, shows a South Korean liaison officer talking to his North Korean counterpart at the Seoul bureau of their joint liaison office on Tuesday. After a 13-month suspension, the two Koreas restored cross-border communication lines that Pyongyang severed last year in protest of propaganda leaflets coming in from the South. (Unification Ministry)
This photo, provided by the unification ministry, shows a South Korean liaison officer talking to his North Korean counterpart at the Seoul bureau of their joint liaison office on Tuesday. After a 13-month suspension, the two Koreas restored cross-border communication lines that Pyongyang severed last year in protest of propaganda leaflets coming in from the South. (Unification Ministry)
WASHINGTON -- The United States welcomes the reopening of direct communication lines between the two Koreas, a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday, calling it a "positive step."

The remarks come after North Korea reopened its communication channels, including a military hotline, with South Korea on Tuesday (Seoul time).

"The United States supports inter-Korean dialogue and engagement and welcomes today's announcement on the restoration of inter-Korean communications lines," the department spokesperson said in an email to Yonhap News Agency, asking not to be identified. "This is a positive step."

Jalina Porter, principal deputy spokesperson for the State Department, later echoed the sentiment, also highlighting the importance of dialogue in dealing with the reclusive North.

"I will also say that diplomacy and dialogue are essential to achieving complete denuclearization and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula," she said in a telephonic press briefing.

North Korea had unilaterally severed all its cross-border communication channels with the South in June 2020 to protest anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets sent by activist groups in South Korea.

Seoul has since revised its law on inter-Korean relations to prohibit sending of propaganda leaflets into the North, citing dangers posed to those who live close to the inter-Korean border due to often hostile reactions from the North.

The restoration of the communication channels came after South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un exchanged "several personal letters," agreeing to improve their countries' ties, according to Seoul officials.

North Korea has ignored US overtures for engagement despite the new Joe Biden administration repeatedly reaching out since coming into office in January.

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman renewed the US outreach last week, saying her country is looking forward to a "reliable, predictable, constructive way forward" with the North.

"We have offered to sit in dialogue with the North Koreans, and we are waiting to hear from them," she said on Friday after meeting with her South Korean counterpart, Choi Jong-kun, in Seoul.

Pyongyang has stayed away from denuclearization talks with Washington since early 2019.

The department spokesperson, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not offer an answer when asked if the reopening of the communication channels between the two Koreas may indicate the North's possible return to the dialogue table with the US

North Korea also frequently denounces joint military exercises of South Korea and the United States as a "hurdle" to dialogue.

A spokesman for the US Department of Defense refused to comment on future exercise plans, citing a policy of the US-South Korea Combined Forces Command (CFC), but insisted the allied forces continue to maintain a "robust combined defense posture to protect the Republic of Korea against any threat or adversary."

Still, the spokesman noted future joint military exercises may be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Protection of the force is CFC's No. 1 priority, and all ROK-US training will respect ROK government and Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency COVID-19 guidelines," he told Yonhap News Agency in an email.

ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea's official name. (Yonhap)

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