DPRK, ROK open joint liaison office
Moon seeks to become ‘chief negotiator’ for Kim and Trump
SEOUL — The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea on Friday opened their first liaison office near their border to facilitate better communication and exchanges ahead of their leaders’ summit in Pyongyang next week.
The office’s opening at the DPRK border town of Kaesong is the latest in a series of reconciliatory steps the two neighbors have taken this year. The office is the first of its kind since they were divided at the end of World War II in 1945.
The two neighbors so far have been using telephone and fax-like communication channels when they want to arrange talks and exchange messages. But those channels have often been suspended when tensions rose.
At the opening ceremony in Kaesong, ROK Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon said the office would become the “cradle of Korean co-prosperity”.
“We’ll sit face to face, exchange our thoughts fast and accurately and put our heads together to resolve difficult matters,” he said in remarks distributed by his office.
Ri Son-gwon, chairman of the DPRK’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification, said during the ceremony that the office would help the DPRK and the ROK exchange “candid conversations” and further build up their ties, according to the ROK media pool reports from the site.
Around 15-20 ROK officials will work at the office nine-tofive, sleep at a nearby lodging facility in Kaesong during weekdays and take turns staffing the office on weekends. The office will be co-headed by ROK Vice-Unification Minister Chun Hae-sung and a deputy head of the DPRK’s Committee for Peaceful Reunification and they will hold an official meeting every week, according to the ROK’s Unification Ministry
They will deal with an equal number of DPRK officials stationed at the office to discuss various inter-Korean issues, exchange messages from their capitals and facilitate civilian exchange programs, the ministry said in a statement.
About 50 government officials and experts from the two sides attended the ceremony.
Kaesong is where the neighbors’ now-stalled jointly run factory complex is located. The park was seen as a test case for unification. But its operation was suspended in 2016 amid an escalating standoff over Pyongyang’s long-range rocket launch.
The resumption of the Kaesong park and other dormant inter-Korean cooperation projects won’t likely happen anytime soon because US-led international sanctions on the DPRK remain in place. Seoul officials said workers renovated some of the buildings used in the complex to use as the liaison office and the lodging facility.
The liaison office’s opening came before ROK President Moon Jae-in and DPRK top leader Kim Jong-un meet next week for the third time this year to discuss denuclearization of the peninsula and other issues.
During the previous meetings with Moon and a separate historic summit with US President Donald Trump, Kim had expressed his commitment to the complete denuclearization of the peninsula. He has also ordered the dismantling of nuclear and rocket-engine testing sites. But nuclear diplomacy was later stalemated as US officials demanded Pyongyang take more significant steps before receiving concessions such as a joint declaration to end the Korean War.
Moon is to fly to Pyongyang on Tuesday for a three-day trip that he says will focus on facilitating talks between Washington and Pyongyang.
Trump last week asked Moon to act as “chief negotiator” between Washington and Pyongyang, according to Moon’s spokesman, after Trump canceled a visit to Pyongyang by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month.
Officials from the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea attend the opening ceremony of a joint liaison office for communication between the two sides, in Kaesong, the DPRK, on Friday.