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Koreans Announce A North-South Hotline


News this morning - South Korea announced that they have successfully established a new telephone hotline connecting President Moon Jae-in with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un. This is at least a major symbolic step ahead of a historic summit between these two nations. A week from today, Kim is going to cross into South Korea for a meeting with President Moon. This comes at a time when South Korea's leader says the North might even be willing to denuclearize. Let's bring in NPR's Elise Hu, who is in Seoul. Good morning, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: Let me just ask you about this hotline first. I mean, I'm usually in California hosting this show. And Rachel and I have this red line in each of the studios in two different cities where we can just pick it up and immediately talk to each other. Is that what we're talking, about two leaders who could just be connected at any moment when they want to?

HU: Yeah, assuming they're both there, right? Because you don't have to dial numbers since it is a direct connection to Pyongyang from Seoul and vice versa. So the hotline connects the South Korean presidential Blue House and North Korea's State Affairs Commission, which is headed by Kim Jong Un. There's already been a test call a few hours ago. It lasted for about four minutes between bureaucrats on both sides. And ahead of next Friday's big summit, the two leaders are expected to use that line to do a prep call.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about this. I mean, we have this line, which is a sign that they're coming maybe closer together. We have this summit coming. We have talk of the North being willing to denuclearize. There's talk now also that the North might be willing to drop their demand that U.S. troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula will leave. There's a lot of movement here.

HU: That's right. I mean, North Korea has had this longstanding demand for the U.S. to withdraw troops. That's been a repeated deal breaker between Pyongyang and Washington in previous negotiations. These U.S. troops have remained in South Korea since the end of fighting in the Korean War, which was in 1953. There's about 28,000 of them. North Korea, apparently, according to Moon Jae-in, is now saying that that's not going to be a demand that it brings to the summit. And Moon is saying that North Korea is willing to denuclearize. North Korea, for its part, has not responded to President Moon's comments, but it hasn't refuted them either.

GREENE: So North Korea seems to be saying a lot of the right things right now ahead of this summit with the South and ahead of a potential summit with President Trump. But, I mean, should we be skeptical?

HU: North Korea does play the long game here, and we have to remember that its regime has remained this - the Kim family, you know, as the U.S. and South Korean administrations have repeatedly changed and sometimes swinging from one party to another rather dramatically and one policy to another. Sources tell me that, you know, North Korea always has something up its sleeve and has various strategies and contingencies. So you really never know how this is going to go until these two leaders get into the room.

GREENE: What are they going to talk about? I mean, this is going to be happening about an hour north of where you are in Seoul, right?

HU: Well, the summit is supposed to focus on denuclearization, especially since the North now claims it can hit the U.S. with a long-range nuclear missile, also about improving North-South relations. And, possibly, they could talk about a peace deal of some sort that could formally bring an end to the Korean War.

GREENE: Wow. OK. NPR Seoul correspondent Elise Hu joining us this morning. Thanks, Elise.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
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