Koreas set up hotline between their leaders

A phone hotline to North Korea on display at Seoul's presidential Blue House. The direct phone line for the leaders of the two Koreas is the latest step in a whirlwind of diplomacy on and around the peninsula.
A phone hotline to North Korea on display at Seoul's presidential Blue House. The direct phone line for the leaders of the two Koreas is the latest step in a whirlwind of diplomacy on and around the peninsula.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Moon and Kim expected to make their first call before meeting next Friday, says South

SEOUL • Hello, Pyongyang. This is Seoul calling.

For the first time since the division of the peninsula after World War II, the two Koreas yesterday set up and tested a direct phone line for their leaders, South Korea said.

The first call between South Korean President Moon Jae In and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was expected take place some time before their historic April 27 meeting, according to Mr Moon's office.

Mr Youn Kun Young, director of the South Korean President's government situation room, said Mr Moon's office made a four-minute trial call to North Korea's State Affairs Commission, which Mr Kim chairs, at 3.41pm Seoul time.

"The historic connection of the hotline between the leaders of the two Koreas has just been established," said senior Blue House official Youn.

"It was as clear as a phone call with a neighbour living next door," he said of the call between the capitals about 200km apart.

And what did representatives for the two long-estranged capitals talk about? The weather, of course.

Here is part of the exchange between aides for Mr Moon and Mr Kim, according to South Korea:

South: "Seoul's weather is really good today. How's North?"

North: "Here, too."

South: "Let's make an effort to make this fruitful."

North: "OK. With this, let's conclude the test call."

Geographically the two are next door to each other, but the peninsula has been divided for 70 years, with no post or telephone communications between them for ordinary civilians since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

"It's a very symbolic move and also an effective way to build mutual trust, both military-and politics-wise," said Korea National Diplomatic Academy professor Shin Beom Chul. "It'll prevent misunderstanding deriving from lack of communication and promote understanding of the two leaders."

The hotline is the latest step in a whirlwind of diplomacy on and around the Korean peninsula, triggered by the Winter Olympics in the South. The two leaders are due to meet next Friday on the southern side of the Demilitarised Zone, in what will be only the third inter-Korean summit since war ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving them technically still in a state of conflict.

Seoul is pushing for a declaration that the war is over as a prelude to the signing of a treaty, with Mr Moon declaring this week it was a goal that "must be pursued".

United States President Donald Trump, who is expected to hold his own much-anticipated summit with Mr Kim later, previously offered his "blessing" for the two Koreas to discuss a treaty.

Mr Kim's ruling Workers' Party of Korea was holding a full meeting of its central committee yesterday to discuss a "new stage" in what it called "the important historic period of the developing Korean revolution". But it was considered unlikely to issue clear details of any change in policy.

The decision to install the hotline came when Mr Moon's special envoys met Mr Kim in Pyongyang last month to lay the groundwork for next week's summit. At the meeting, Mr Kim said he was hopeful that complicated conflicts could be resolved over a single phone call with Mr Moon.

BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 21, 2018, with the headline 'Koreas set up hotline between their leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe