SEOUL (Reuters) -- South and North Korea have restored hotlines that Pyongyang severed a year ago when ties deteriorated sharply, and the two countries’ leaders are renewing efforts to rebuild relations, Seoul’s presidential office said on Tuesday.
The decision on the hotlines was made by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un who have exchanged multiple letters since April when they marked the third anniversary of their first summit, said Moon’s press secretary, Park Soo-hyun.
North Korea’s state news agency, KCNA, also said all inter-Korean communication channels resumed operation at 10 a.m. Tuesday (0100 GMT) in line with an agreement between Moon and Kim.
The hotlines are a rare tool to bridge the two Koreas, but it was unclear whether their reconnection would expedite any meaningful restart of negotiations aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
“The two leaders have explored ways to recover relations by exchanging letters on several occasions, and agreed to restore severed hotlines as a first step for that process,” Park said in a statement. “They have also agreed to regain trust as soon as possible and foster progress on relations again.”
KCNA touted the reopening of the hotlines as “a big stride in recovering mutual trust and promoting reconciliation.”
North Korea cut the lines in June 2020 as cross-border ties soured after a failed second summit in February 2019 between Kim and former U.S. President Donald Trump, which Moon had offered to mediate.
Then the North blew up a joint liaison office, launched on its soil in 2018 to foster better ties with the South.
Seoul’s defense ministry confirmed that twice-daily regular communication was resumed via a military hotline on Tuesday.
The Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, also said telephone lines installed at the border truce village of Panmunjom were restored.
Park said Moon and Kim have agreed to work together to fight the pandemic but did not discuss any possible summit, in-person or virtual.
The exchange of letters came ahead of Moon’s summit with U.S. President Joe Biden in May, where the leaders displayed their willingness to engage the North.
But it still remains to be seen whether Pyongyang was ready to return to negotiations.
“It’s just a reconnection of the lines they’d cut unilaterally,” said Moon Seong-mook, a retired South Korean military general who previously led inter-Korean talks.
“North Korea would still wonder what’s the point in talking to the South, as the North wants substantive easing of sanctions, but there’s nothing we can do on that.”