Thu, Jan 04, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Inter-Korean hotline reopens


Soldiers patrol near the Demilitarized Zone yesterday in Paju, South Korea.

Photo: Reuters

North and South Korea yesterday reopened a cross-border hotline that had been shut down since 2016, forging ahead with peace overtures despite taunts from US President Donald Trump, who said he has a “much bigger” nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The hotline was restored after Seoul proposed high-level talks in response to an olive branch from Kim, who has offered to send a team to next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

“The phone conversation lasted 20 minutes,” a South Korean Ministry of Unification official said, adding that details were not known immediately.

Kim during his new year address included a warning to the US that he has a “nuclear button” on his table, prompting a furious response from Trump.

“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’ Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” Trump said on Twitter.

The tweet generated responses largely of scorn and alarm.

“Our President is a child. ‘Mine is bigger than yours’ may sound tough on the playground, but this is no juvenile affair. Literally millions of lives are at stake,” former US national security adviser Colin Kahl said on Twitter.

However, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley maintained a tough line, playing down Seoul’s offer to hold talks.

These would be a “Band-Aid” unless denuclearization was also up for discussion, she said.

US Department of State spokesman Heather Nauert also said that Kim “may be trying to drive a wedge of some sort between the two nations — between our nation and [South Korea].”

However, the tentative rapprochement seemed to be moving ahead yesterday, with Kim welcoming Seoul’s support for his overtures, said Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the South Korean Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country.

The hotline in the border truce village of Panmunjom remained operational until February 2016, when it was shut down over a dispute involving the jointly operated and now closed Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Seoul welcomed Pyongyang’s decision to reopen the hotline as “very significant.”

Asan Institute for Policy Studies research fellow Go Myong-hyun said that North Korea was using the South as a “shield” as it tries to fend off sanctions and pressure from the US.

“If the South becomes the North’s dialogue partner, the US-South Korea alliance will face difficulties,” he said.

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