North and South Korea on Friday opened a liaison office — their first ever — near the border in order to improve communications in the leadup to their summit next week.
The office in the North Korean side of the border, in the town of Kaesong, is the latest step taken by the rival Koreas, divided since the end of World War II, and is an upgrade from the periodic communications that have broken down as tensions have mounted over North Korea’s ballistic and nuclear missile programs.
According to the Associated Press, the office will be staffed by up to 20 South Koreans and an equal number of North Koreans during the day. By night, the staff will lodge in Kaesong, rotating in and out on weekends.
Next week’s three-day summit in Pyongyang will see South Korean President Moon Jae-in meet with his counterpart, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in hopes of de-escalating military tensions at their mutual border.
This is happening in the shadow of a rather fragmented dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
Next week, starting on Tuesday, world leaders are expected in New York for the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). At last years’s UNGA, President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea, but since then, he has moved from insulting Kim to praising him as a “strong” leader.
Trump’s summit with Kim in June resulted in a very short, vague agreement that has, so far, led to more acrimony than progress, although the signals coming from Pyongyang and Washington tend to be mixed.
For weeks after meeting Kim in Singapore — with only translators in the room and no one else, much to the dismay of U.S. lawmakers, who have been trying to ferret out what was actually agreed to — the president seemed optimistic about the outcome of his efforts, going so far to say that the North Korean threat had been eliminated:
Just landed – a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 13, 2018
The Trump administration even appointed a North Korean special representative, Steve Biegun, in late August. When that appointment was announced, State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert was so excited about her upcoming trip to North Korea that she started discussing what she might pack for the trip with the press.
She did not seem concerned that the North Koreans had earlier referred to U.S. negotiating tactics as “gangster-like” (and not in the way that implies “swagger” that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seems to value so much). Nor was there any talk of North Korea continuing to develop some of its nuclear facilities.
Less than 24 hours after that press conference, President Trump cancelled that meeting, citing lack of progress and the trade war with China as the reasons for doing so.
Since then things have grown more shaky between North Korea and the United States.
The Washington Post on Friday reported that Pyongyang has accused the U.S. of spreading “preposterous falsehoods” as part of a smear campaign in linking the North Korean government with cyberattacks, including the 2014 hack that targeting Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Meanwhile, the White House announced on Monday that it had received a letter from Kim requesting a second meeting with Trump, although it provided no details on if or when it might happen.