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Moon-Kim hotline isn’t ringing

Apr 26,2018
A hotline between the South and North Korean leaders has remained silent since the direct telephone line was established last Friday.

President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were expected to speak over phone ahead of their first summit tomorrow, but there are no signs that the call will be happen any time soon.

Authorities in Seoul have turned down questions about why the call hasn’t occurred, but analysts surmise that both countries might be confronting some sort of last-minute hurdle before the summit.

The two sides initially raised the idea of a hotline in early March, when Moon sent five special envoys to Pyongyang to meet with Kim and relay Moon’s acceptance of an inter-Korean summit. Kim delivered an invitation to Moon through his younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, in February.

During the meeting between Kim and Moon’s envoys, both sides agreed to establish a direct line between the two leaders and have them speak over the phone before the summit.

Officials from the North and South held two working-level meetings this month to establish a hotline connecting the Blue House in Seoul to the headquarters of the State Affairs Commission, which Kim chairs, in Pyongyang. The work culminated in a trial run last Friday that lasted 4 minutes and 19 seconds.

At 3:41 p.m., Moon’s personal secretary, Song In-bae, reportedly spoke with an unidentified official from the State Affairs Commission. Both sides took turns dialing each other.

Yun Geon-young, a Blue House official leading the situation room for the inter-Korean summit preparatory committee, told reporters that the test ran “smoothly.” The connection was so good, he said, that it felt like they were “calling someone from next door.”

The Blue House did not reveal any details about when Moon and Kim might call each other, but a senior Blue House official with knowledge of the process said Tuesday that there was a “51 percent chance” they won’t talk before meeting in person on Friday. “It would be a symbolic call if they speak over the hotline before the summit on the 27th,” the source said, “but do we really need that symbolism?”

An analyst at a government-funded research institute who spoke on the condition of anonymity said officials from both sides might have agreed in working-level meetings to hold the first phone call when both leaders were ready to make a final decision on an agenda for the summit.

What could be delaying the call, the analyst said, was the two sides wrangling over what their leaders will discuss.

South Korea’s unification minister, which handles relations with the North, hinted as much when he told reporters on Tuesday that Seoul and Pyongyang were “continuously negotiating” the agenda.

BY JEONG YONG-SOO [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]