SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP) - North Korea on Wednesday (Jan 3) reopened a long-closed border hotline with South Korea, two days after leader Kim Jong Un extended a rare overture to Seoul.
The resumption of the hotline indicates a step forward in improving long-stalled inter-Korean ties despite North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations, said Yonhap news agency.
The North cut off the hotline installed at the liaison office at the truce village of Panmunjom and a military channel in February 2016 in protest of Seoul's shutdown of a joint industrial complex in Kaesong
Wednesday was the first official contact between both sides in nearly two years, according to South Korean media. It came a day after Seoul proposed high-level inter-Korean talks on Jan 9 to discuss North Korea's possible participation in the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics and ways to improve ties.
Seoul's proposal followed Kim's New Year's address, in which he said he was “open to dialogue” with Seoul, and for North Korean athletes to possibly take part in next month's Winter Games.
"By upholding a decision by the leadership, we will make close contact with South Korea in a sincere and faithful manner," Mr Ri Son Gwon, head of North Korea's agency handling inter-Korean affairs, said in a televised statement.
"We will discuss working-level issues over our potential dispatch of the delegation."
South Korea's presidential spokesman welcomed the opening of the hotline, calling it a significant development.
"I believe it signals a move toward an environment where communication will be possible at all times," chief presidential press secretary Yoon Young Chan told reporters.
In his New Year address on Monday, Kim warned the US that he has a “nuclear button” on his table, but extended an olive branch to the South, saying his country might take part in the Winter Olympics. The Games will be held in the city of Pyeongchang from Feb 9 to 25.
Mr Lee Hee Beom, head of the 2018 Olympic organizing committee, said Pyeongchang had been "preparing for a long time" for the possibility that North Korea would take part in the quadrennial event.
"We're making preparations in case North Korea sends its athletes, cheering squad and support staff," Mr Lee said on Wednesday at Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium, the venue for the opening and closing ceremonies.
"The International Olympic Committee has also said several times that it would support North Korea's participation."
The Korean Sport & Olympic Committee (KSOC) once again raised the possibility of assembling a joint Korean team during the Winter Olympics.
"Talks of a unified Korean team may be premature now," said KSOC resident Lee Kee Heung, also present at PyeongChang Olympic Stadium.
"But if North Korea sends its delegation, we'll leave all possibilities open and try to ensure the Olympics' success."