South, North Korea have restored once-severed hotline: Blue House

South Korean President Moon Jae-in (left) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to reconnect the hotline. PHOTOS: EPA-EFE, REUTERS

SEOUL (REUTERS, AFP) - South and North Korea have restored their once-severed hotline and the two countries' leaders have agreed to rebuild trust and improve ties, Seoul's presidential Blue House said on Tuesday (July 27).

North Korea's state media outlet KCNA also said all inter-Korean communication channels were reopened at 10am on Tuesday in line with an agreement between the leaders.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged multiple letters since April and agreed to reconnect the hotline, the Blue House said.

"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 cut-off inter-Korean communication liaison lines," North Korea's official KCNA news agency reported.

They exchanged their first phone call since the suspension on Tuesday morning, Seoul's unification ministry said, with the defence ministry adding that military hotlines were also back to normal operation.

Moon's office said that restoring the hotlines was the first step towards improving ties.

"The two leaders also agreed to restore mutual trust between the two Koreas as soon as possible and move forward with the relationship again," it added in a statement.

North Korea cut the hotline in June 2020 as cross-border ties soured after a failed second summit in February 2019 between Mr Kim and former US President Donald Trump, which Mr Moon had offered to mediate.

Just days after severing the hotlines last year, Pyongyang also blew up an inter-Korean liaison office on its side of the border and threatened to bolster military presence along the Demilitarized Zone that separates them.

Mr Moon has called for a recovery of the hotline and talks, pinning high hopes on US President Joe Biden to restart negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.

Since US President Joe Biden took office, Pyongyang and Washington have adopted a wait-and-see attitude to relations following the diplomatic roller coaster ride under Trump that produced three summits but no agreement on dismantling the North's nuclear arsenal.

Kim said in June that Pyongyang needed to prepare for both "dialogue and confrontation" with Washington - but with a particular emphasis on the latter.

The White House promised a "practical, calibrated approach" - including diplomatic efforts - in a recent review of its strategy to persuade the impoverished North to give up its nuclear weapons and missile programmes.

Sung Kim, the top US diplomat in charge of North Korea negotiations, said in June that Washington was ready to meet with Pyongyang "anywhere, anytime, without preconditions".

But Kim Yo Jong - Kim Jong Un's sister and a key adviser - dismissed the offer.

Analysts said Tuesday's restoration of the inter-Korean hotlines signalled Kim's initial response to Washington's talks offer.

"It looks like he has decided that restoring inter-Korean relations is beneficial to the North's both domestic and foreign policies and politics," Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.

Despite the standstill in talks, Moon has relentlessly stressed the importance of restoring inter-Korean ties, he added.

"This should be read as Kim Jong Un's first response to Seoul and Washington," Yang said.

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