North and South Korea installed the first telephone hotline between their leaders on Friday as they prepared for a rare summit next week aimed at resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang.
South Korea’s presidential office said a successful test call was conducted on the hotline between Seoul’s presidential Blue House and Pyongyang’s powerful State Affairs Commission.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un plan to make their first telephone conversation some time before their face-to-face meeting next Friday at the border truce village of Panmunjom.
South Korean officials said the hotline, which would be maintained after the summit, would help facilitate dialogue and reduce misunderstanding during times of tension.
“The historic direct telephone line between the leaders of the South and North was connected a short while ago,” South Korean presidential official Youn Kun Young said in a news briefing.
“The test call went on for four minutes and 19 seconds starting at 3.41pm with (officials from) both sides speaking to each other.
“The connection was smooth and the voice quality was very good. It was like calling next door,” he said.
Kim, a third-generation dictator, is the chairman of the State Affairs Commission, North Korea’s supreme decision-making institution that was created in 2016 to replace the National Defence Commission he inherited from his father.
The new body includes the country’s most powerful individuals in state, military and party affairs and is seen as crucial for Kim to consolidate his power and centralise governance.
The meeting between Kim and Moon will only be the third summit between the rivals since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War and could prove to be significant in the global diplomatic push to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis.
A separate summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump is anticipated in May or June.
North Korea in January reopened a border hotline between the countries after nearly two years of radio silence as the countries resumed dialogue following a period of animosity surrounding the North’s nuclear weapons and missile tests.
The revival of the hotline at Panmunjom came days after Kim in a New Year’s speech proposed negotiations with the South on easing tensions and the North’s participation in February’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
North Korea’s abrupt diplomatic outreach comes after a flurry of weapons tests that marked 2017, including the underground detonation of an alleged thermonuclear warhead and three launches of developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to strike the US mainland.
While South Korean and US officials have said Kim is probably trying to save his broken economy from heavy sanctions, some analysts see him as entering the negotiations from a position of strength after having declared his nuclear force complete.