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Hotline at DMZ is working but North is reluctant

Kim Jong-un may be mulling what issues should be discussed
Jan 05,2018
One day after the restoration of a hotline between the two Koreas at the truce village of Panmunjom, no conversation has been held on possible talks leading up to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, said South Korea’s Unification Ministry Thursday.

The ministry, which handles inter-Korean cooperation, said in a statement that both sides talked three times on Thursday. In the first conversation, a North Korean liaison official called the South through the hotline at 9:30 a.m., South Korean time, which runs 30 minutes later than North Korean time.

Both sides checked their lines, after which the South Korean liaison official asked, “Do you have anything to say?” His northern counterpart replied, “I will give you notice if I have anything to tell you.”

At 4 p.m., South Korea called the North and was told the same. Half an hour later, the North called and suggested they wrap up for the day.

There were five rounds of talks between the two Koreas via the hotline since Pyongyang reopened it Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. The two sides talked twice on Wednesday, at 3:30 p.m. and 6:07 p.m. During the first talk at 3:30 p.m., which lasted for about 20 minutes, a North Korean liaison official called the South and they checked their lines for any technical glitches since the hotline had been closed for 23 months.

At 6:07 p.m., the North called again to suggest they wrap up for the day, according to the Unification Ministry.

A senior ministry official said Thursday that the South has yet to mention its proposal to hold high-level talks next Tuesday through the Panmunjom hotline, as initially raised by Unification Minister Cho Myung-gyon last Tuesday. The official said Seoul was “patiently waiting” for Pyongyang to make the next move by responding to Cho’s suggestion.

North Korea’s reluctance is unexpected given that its leader Kim Jong-un ordered the reopening of the Panmunjom channel early Wednesday afternoon, telling his underlings to converse with the South about the Olympics.

The easing of tensions began Monday when Kim said in a New Year’s address he was willing to send a delegation to the PyeongChang Olympics next month in South Korea, adding the North and South could “urgently meet” to discuss the issue. On Tuesday, Unification Minister Cho suggested they meet next Tuesday at Peace House, a building controlled by South Korea in Panmunjom, which straddles the border. The agenda, according to Cho, would chiefly be Pyongyang’s Olympics participation, but could also include other issues.

On Wednesday, Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country of the DPRK, which handles inter-Korean relations within the North Korean government, replied in a televised statement that Kim Jong-un “welcomed” Seoul’s positive reaction to his New Year's address and ordered the reopening of the hotline to discuss the Olympics.

Jung Chang-hyun, a North Korea expert who was an adviser to the Unification Ministry’s inter-Korean dialogue division, said the regime could be waiting for Kim’s final decision on whether he was willing to talk about issues aside from the Winter Games.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]