Friday, July 30, 2021

Two Koreas in talks to reopen joint office, hold summit: Report | Al Jazeera

North and South Korea are in talks to reopen a joint liaison office that Pyongyang demolished last year and hold a summit as part of efforts to restore relations, three South Korean government sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters news agency.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have been exploring ways to improve strained ties by exchanging multiple letters since April, the sources said on condition of anonymity due to diplomatic sensitivity.

The discussions signal an improvement in ties that have deteriorated in the past year after three leaders’ summits in 2018 promised peace and reconciliation.

Inter-Korean talks could also help restart stalled negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear and missile programmes in return for sanctions relief.

The issue is key for Moon, who is facing declining support in his final year in office. Moon staked his legacy on improving relations with North Korea and helped set up historic meetings between Kim and Donald Trump, then president of the United States in 2018 and 2019.

The two Koreas, still technically at war after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a ceasefire, on Tuesday reconnected hotlines the North severed in June last year.

Both sides are discussing rebuilding their joint liaison office at the truce village of Panmunjom on the border, two sources said. Pyongyang spectacularly destroyed the previous office in its border town of Kaesong in 2020.

They are also seeking a summit between Moon and Kim, but no time frame or other details have been raised due to the coronavirus pandemic, the sources said.

North Korea has not confirmed any COVID-19 cases, but it shut borders and imposed strict prevention measures.

“The talks are still ongoing, and COVID-19 should be the biggest factor,” one source said. “A face-to-face meeting is the best, but hopefully the situation will get better.”

Moon’s office referred to a briefing on Tuesday by his press secretary, Park Soo-hyun, who said the issue of restoring the liaison office was to be discussed, and that the leaders have not floated plans for any summit so far.

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