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Hope rises as two Koreas open joint liaison office in North

The Week 2018-09-14 18:49:08

In an exciting development, North and South Korea opened a joint liaison office in the Northern city of Kaesong on Friday. This sets up a permanent channel of communication as part of a flurry of efforts to end their decades old rivalry.

"A new chapter in history is open here today," South Korean unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a ceremony, calling the office "another symbol of peace jointly created by the South and the North". The nuclear-armed North's chief delegate Ri Son Gwon responded in kind, calling it a "substantial fruit nourished by the people of the north and south". South Korea President Moon Jae-in is set to visit Pyongyang next week.

Steps by North and South Korea to improve their relations are running parallel to a bid by the United States and its allies to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

“The two sides are now able to take a large step toward peace, prosperity and unification of the Korean peninsula by quickly and frankly discussing issues arising from inter-Korean relations,” said Ri Son Gwon, the head of North Korea’s delegation at the opening ceremony.

The two Koreas previously communicated by fax and special telephone lines, which were often severed when their relations took a turn for the worse.

The two Koreas have sought to pursue joint projects in multiple fields since the April summit between Moon and the North's leader Kim Jong Un in the Demilitarised zone that divides the peninsula, even as US efforts to secure concrete progress towards Pyongyang's denuclearisation have stalled.

Last month, Trump abruptly cancelled a planned visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Pyongyang, after the North condemned "gangster-like" demands for what it called its unilateral disarmament.

But Kim has since sent Trump a letter seeking a second summit and held a military parade for his country's 70th birthday without showing off any intercontinental ballistic missiles, prompting warm tweets from the US president and raising hopes of progress.

The liaison office stands in a city that was initially part of the South after Moscow and Washington divided Korea between them in the closing days of World War II, but found itself in the North after the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

The four-storey building includes separate Northern and Southern offices and a joint conference room, and Seoul's unification ministry said it would become a "round-the-clock consultation and communication channel" for advancing inter-Korean relations, improving ties between the US and the North, and easing military tensions.

The office will be staffed by up to 20 people each from the two sides with the South Koreans on the second floor and the North Koreans on the fourth floor of the four-story building.