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North and South Korea agree to talk again, restore cross-border hotline

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, with South Korean President Moon Jae-in during talks at the border village of Panmunjom on April 27, 2018. Moon and Kim have agreed to restore suspended communication channels and improve ties. (AP)

SEOUL — North and South Korea restored a key communications hotline Tuesday and agreed to improve ties, more than a year after Pyongyang cut the link during a period of increased tensions.

The move followed the exchange of letters between leaders of the two Koreas to reestablish cross-border engagement, Seoul’s presidential office said Tuesday.

North Korea’s Central News Agency (KCNA) also said the two sides restarted communication lines as of Tuesday at 10 a.m. “The top leaders of the North and the South agreed to make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines through the recent several exchanges of personal letters,” the KCNA said.

South Korea and North Korea restored a communication hotline as part of efforts by the countries leaders to rebuild strained ties, officials said on July 27. (Video: Reuters)

Tuesday’s development comes 13 months after North Korea ­severed the telephone hotline with South Korea and blew up a liaison office where officials from both sides had operated. Pyongyang said at the time that the act was to protest the South’s failure to stop activists from sending anti-regime leaflets across the border.

North Korea blows up joint liaison office, dramatically raising tensions with South

The dramatic step was part of hardening North Korean rhetoric amid a deadlock in U.S.-led diplomacy to persuade the regime to give up its nuclear weapons.

Nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington have been stalled since a 2019 summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump broke down because of disagreements over economic sanctions on the country.

In the aftermath, inter-Korean ties also deteriorated. North Korea turned its back on the South’s President Moon Jae-in, who had offered to broker talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

North Korea has been criticizing the South for implementing international sanctions on the country and failing to restart joint economic projects.

Peace talks between Kim and Moon in 2018 led to promises of economic cooperation and twice-daily contact through the hotline until the North’s withdrawal in June last year.

With communications restored, the two sides plan to hold regular conversations at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.

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On Tuesday, officials from both sides tested the line along the western side of the peninsula. The link on the eastern side has yet to be connected because of technical issues, the ministry said.

Experts said the economic hardships North Korea is facing this year could push the regime to return to talks with the United States or South Korea. In the wake of the pandemic, North Korea shut down its borders and cut off trade with neighboring countries, worsening an economy already crippled by sanctions.

Although North Korea agreed to improve ties and restore the hotline after a year-long suspension, time is limited for the South’s president to restore ties. Moon is in the final year of his single, five-year term.

 “Even if it seems late to make any substantial progress on ­inter-Korean economic reconciliation, Moon could lay the groundwork for the next president to try diplomacy as their starting point when it comes to North Korea,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, ­KF-VUB Korea chair at the Institute for European Studies in Brussels.

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