Diplomatic relations between North and South Korea have taken a positive turn after the North reopened its hotline to the South with a phone call.
The brief 20 minute call was made at 06:00 GMT or 15:00 local time on Wednesday, and subsequently confirmed by the South Korean Unification Ministry 10 minutes later. North Korea announced the reopening of the telephone hotline via a statement on state television.
The hotline itself is physically based in Panmunjom, a heavily guarded and contested village located in the demilitarised border zone. It is historically significant for being a location used by the two nations for talks.
The order, made by Kim Jong-un, comes almost two years after the North Korean leader originally ordered the phoneline closed. That closure was in protest over a joint economic venture between the two countries at the shared Kaesong Industrial Complex, of which the South pulled out due to the nuclear tests being conducted in the North.
The change of mind comes a month ahead of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang County, South Korea, in February. Kim Jong-un has said he is willing to open dialogue with the south in anticipation of the event, and South Korea has said it would welcome the attendance of their neighbours.
As part of the same speech Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s also laid down a threat to the United States of America, saying that the nuclear missile launch button is “always on my table” and warned the US against starting a war.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has said talks of nuclear weapons and testing will not be avoided should the North and South agree to physical talks, and the US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley stated that the United States will "will never accept a nuclear North Korea."
President Trump responded to the North Korean leader’s threat personally on Twitter:
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!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2018
The American leader’s strong words are nothing new, and given that Kim Jong-un issued the warning first it’s no surprise that the US leader responded to hostility with hostility. Many commentators believe the hotline reopening to be a PR stunt by the North Koreans to gain some positive publicity and attention at the Olympics to counterbalance their nuclear program. There are also fears that the North is attempting to make peace with the South to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington D.C.
The current hope is that North Korea can be persuaded to follow in Iran’s footsteps and self-regulate and self-restrain their nuclear program and ambition. Both nations have experienced trade embargoes so persuasion is a nice way of putting it, but with Trump and Kim Jong-un at loggerheads it’s hard to assess whether the North Korean push for diplomatic talks are both genuine and even if they are whether they can even succeed due to the tensions between North Korea and the USA.