North Korea reopens key communication channel with South Korea

(Image Source: MGN)

SEOUL, South Korea (CBS) South Korea said Wednesday it had begun preliminary contacts with North Korea via a key cross-border communication system that the North re-opened earlier in the day.

The South's Unification Ministry said the two Koreas were communicating via the channel at the border village of Panmunjom.

The statement said officials were first trying to examine whether the communicating lines were working well.

Pyongyang said leader Kim Jong Un had decided to reopen the channel a day after Seoul offered high-level talks to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South. Kim suggested Monday that the North might send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Games.

The reopening of the channel was another sign of easing animosity between the rivals after a year that saw the North conduct nuclear bomb and missile tests and both the Koreas and Washington issue threats of war.

Seoul said Wednesday it welcomed the North's decision to restore the channel. The South's Unification Ministry said it will try to use the channel to discuss its offer to hold the talks on the Olympics.

Seoul on Tuesday proposed the two nations meet at the border village of Panmunjom Jan. 9, but Pyongyang hasn't responded to that offer.

Although the developments were positive signs that the Koreas are working toward improved ties, there was no guarantee that tensions will ease.

There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, and even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations or stalemate. North Korea didn't say whether it would accept the South Korean offer for talks.

Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, made the announcement on Kim Jong Un's behalf, according Seoul's Unification Ministry.

Ri said North Korea will try to engage with South Korea in a "sincere and careful" manner by "upholding the will of the supreme leader," in a reference to Kim, the ministry said.

The developments came even as President Trump and the North's Kim sparred over their nuclear "buttons," and amid signs Pyongyang was in the early stages of a launch cycle for another intercontinental ballistic missile test, according to CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.