Reconnected: North and South Korean leaders get new hotline as stage is set for historic summit
Phone line directly connects Moon Jae-in from his office in Seoul to Kim Jong-un’s state affairs office in Pyongyang
A hotline between the leaders of North and South Korea went live on Friday, a week before they are due to hold a historic summit on the border that has separated their countries for more than six decades.
As preparations for the meeting gathered pace, South Korean media reported that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, would talk over the phone before they meet next Friday.
The summit will take place on the southern side of the demilitarised zone, a heavily armed strip of land that has divided the peninsula since hostilities in the Korean war ended in 1953.
The hotline connects Moon’s desk at the presidential Blue House with North Korea’s state affairs commission, which is headed by Kim, Yonhap news agency said.
South Korean officials were the first to pick up the phone, then took a return call from their North Korean counterparts to make sure the line was working in both directions.
Youn Kun-young, an official from the Moon’s office said the four minute, 17 second conversation had been a success.
“The historic connection of the hotline between the leaders of the two Koreas has just been established,” Youn said, adding, “The connection was smooth and the voice quality was very good. It was like calling next door.”
Moon will now be able to pick up his office phone to talk to Kim, instead of communicating through a hot line at the Joint Security Area in the border village of Panmunjom.
The plan was unveiled by the South’s National Security Adviser, Chung Eui-yong, after he met Kim last month in Pyongyang.
The idea of opening a hot line was hatched in June 2000 when South Korean president at the time Kim Dae-jung and the North’s Kim Jong-il, the current leader’s father, held the first inter-Korean summit.
The system is said to feature a telephone, a fax and a screen with internet connection for a video chat.
Lim Dong-won, a key architect of the late liberal president’s “sunshine policy” of re-engagement with the North, said in his 2007 memoir that the phones played a critical role in resolving sensitive issues.
The communication channel was also used by Roh Moo-hyun, the successor to Kim Dae-jung, until the conservative Lee Myung-bak took over in 2008, Seoul officials said.
There was no communication at Panmunjom as the stand-off deepened over Pyongyang’s weapons programmes, until the hot line was used for the first time in nearly two years in January.
During the lull, South Korean officials would sometimes use a megaphone to shout messages across the border.
The Guardian, Reuters