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    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves during a military parade on Saturday, April 15, 2017, in Pyongyang, North Korea to celebrate the 105th birth anniversary of Kim Il Sung, the country's late founder and grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un.

    North Korea Hotline 'Reveals Hidden Division Between US, South Korea' – Analyst

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    Kim Jong-un reopened a telephone hotline between Pyongyang and Seoul to discuss issues related to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. In his speech to the nation on New Year’s Day, Kim Jong-un spoke about melting frozen North-South relations. Radio Sputnik talked to Tong Zhao, a fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

    During the interview, Tong Zhao said that the hotline was cut off about two years ago. Since then, regional tensions have been growing, now to the point that there exists a risk for a serious conflict to break out due to as little as a misunderstanding.

    “It is highly important to have a direct channel of communication between North Korea and the rest of the international community. In this sense the hotline can provide a good opportunity for North Korea to actually talk to South Korea. That can promote better mutual understanding,” Zhao said.

    Ri Son-gwon, the head of North Korea's agency for handling inter-Korean affairs said, as quoted by the Yonhap news agency, that the instructions to open the Panmunjom [the shared border village] contact channel between the North and South came at 15:00 [3:30 p.m. in Seoul, 6:30 GMT], and aimed at settling issues related to hosting the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, including sending [North Korea's] delegation to the Games.

    According to Tong Zhao the phone line may open a route for both the parties to talk about other issues, apart from the upcoming Olympic Games. 

    “It could be the first step to much more important progress,” Zhao told Sputnik. 

    Talking about the current state of relations between the two Koreas, the analyst said that currently it is clear that both the parties want to make quick progress in improving relations and de-escalating the tensions.

    “The United States has to make a major decision about how it is going to respond to the recent diplomatic offensive from Kim Jong-un,” the analyst said.

    He further said that South Korea wants to start talks with North Korea without pre-conditions, while by contrast the United States insists that any negotiation with DPRK has to be based on their denuclearization. 

    “There is a lot of skepticism within Washington about how sincere North Korea is in its recent diplomatic overture. That thinking is problematic because what it really reveals is the hidden division between the positions of South Korea and the United States regarding how to deal with North Korea,” Zhao said.

    US Envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned in a statement on Tuesday that Washington would not recognize any talks between the two Koreas unless the nuclear issue is resolved and all of their nuclear weapons banned.

    "North Korea can talk to anyone they want, but the United States is not going to recognize it or acknowledge it until they agree to ban the nuclear weapons that they have," Haley said.

    Seoul, in turn, has planned to hold high-level talks on January 9 in the village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea.

    The 2018 Winter Olympic Games will take place in Pyeongchang and two nearby cities, Gangneung and Jeongseon, in South Korea from February 9 to February 25. The South Korean resort city is located just 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the border with North Korea.

    The views expressed in this article are solely those of the analyst and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    diplomatic conflict, Olympic games, negotiations, bilateral relations, interview, Nikki Haley, Kim Jong-un, Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK), South Korea
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