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North, South Korea in talks over reopening liaison office, holding summit

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un during their summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea, May 26, 2018. (File photo by Reuters)

North and South Korea are set to reopen a joint liaison office and hold a summit as part of efforts to restore inter-Korean relations, three South Korean officials have said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un have been exchanging letters since April, signaling an improvement in strained ties that have deteriorated in the past year, when Pyongyang spectacularly destroyed the liaison office in its border town of Kaesong.

Despite “ups and downs” within the consultations, the two Koreas on Tuesday agreed to reactivate hotlines the North cut in June last year in protest at anti-North propaganda activities in the South, the sources, who wanted their names to be anonymous, told Reuters. 

According to the sources, the two sides are also seeking a summit between Moon and Kim, but the time frame is unclear due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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

Meanwhile, Park Soo-hyun, South Korea’s senior secretary for public communications asserted that the issue of restoring the liaison office was to be discussed, and that the leaders have not floated plans for any summit so far.

A second source stressed on a virtual summit in case a personal meeting was unavailable and said: “If we can do that and the North has that capability, it would make a big difference, and open so many windows of opportunity, something to restart talks with the United States.”

Moon helped set up historic meetings between Kim and then US President Donald Trump in 2018 and 2019, but the negotiations have been stalled since then.

According to the first source, Moon and Kim have exchanged "candid" letters on more than 10 occasions, and there has been a communication channel between Seoul's intelligence authorities and Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong.

Moon and Kim held their first meeting in Panmunjom, a truce village between the two countries, in April 2018. In what was named the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, President Moon and Kim promised “a new era of peace” on the peninsula.

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