NOEL KING, HOST:
For the last year or so, North Korea has communicated with South Korea in one of two ways. It has lashed out with insults and missile tests. Or North Korea has just been silent. Today, there was a small step toward reconciliation. The two countries reconnected some phone hotlines that were cut more than a year ago. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is with us now from Seoul. Hi, Anthony.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.
KING: What are these hotlines? And how do they work?
KUHN: Yeah. There are actually five hotlines between these two Koreas. They connect the countries' leaders, their militaries, their spy agencies and the agencies that deal with inter-Korean relations. And four of them were restored today. That's all of them except for the spy line, which, interestingly, was never cut even in the worst of times. The Korean officials used the inter-Korean and military lines to check in every morning. They use just a couple of minutes to say what's up. The South Korean government released a recording of today's call, in which their official basically just said, hi, we're glad the lines are back up. And now that they are, we hope we can bring both Koreas some good news.
KING: Has either country said why they reconnected them?
KUHN: Well, South Korea is saying that this is the result of an exchange of letters that happened between President Moon Jae-in of the South and Kim Jong Un of the North starting in April. It actually had been reported that these two leaders were writing to each other, especially around the time President Biden held a summit with President Moon in Washington in May. Both sides are saying that this restoration of hotlines should leave to - lead to an improvement of ties. North Korea even said that neither Korea wants relations between the two to stagnate. But it was, in fact, North Korea that cut these links in June of 2020 with a lot of political theater. North Korea blew up a liaison office in North Korea. It was a point of contact for the two. It blamed South Korea for allowing defectors to send propaganda leaflets into the North. And there are some sharp insults out of Pyongyang, such as Kim Jong Un's sister calling President Moon Jae-in a parrot of the U.S.'s gangster-like logic. And there were ballistic missile tests as recently as March.
KING: OK. But now they're talking about an improvement of ties. Do you think that means the start of another round of diplomacy there?
KUHN: Well, Seoul says there's no mention of any new inter-Korean summit so far. South Korea's president Moon Jae-in would like to make this a last-ditch drive to seal his legacy with a diplomatic breakthrough in his final year in office. People are not tripping over themselves with excitement, however, because the two Koreas have gone through many, many cycles that start with detente and diplomacy. They then get stalemated. And they end up in military provocation. And it's not clear at all that they can break free of that cycle this time.
KING: Ah, OK. So I wanted to ask you whether there was any chance this could lead to a resumption of stalled nuclear talks with the U.S. But it sounds like...
KUHN: Yeah, no sign of that. Two Biden administrations have just offered talks without any preconditions. But North Korea has not budged since last month, when their foreign minister said they're not even considering the possibility of contacts with the U.S. because they think it would just be a waste of time.
KING: There you have it. NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Seoul. Thank you, Anthony.
KUHN: Thanks, Noel.
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