(ATTN: ADDS more info in 14th para, photo)
By Koh Byung-joon
SEOUL, Oct. 4 (Yonhap) -- South and North Korea restored their direct communication lines Monday, raising hopes for the resumption of stalled inter-Korean dialogue amid a drawn-out deadlock in denuclearization talks.
The two sides had contact through a military hotline and a separate joint liaison office channel, according to South Korean officials.
Hours earlier, North Korea's state media announced that the lines would be back to normal operation as of 9 a.m. on the day.
Last year, North Korea blew up a liaison office in its border town of Kaesong and unilaterally cut off all inter-Korean communication lines in anger over anti-Pyongyang leaflets sent from South Korea.
The hotlines were briefly back in operation in late July before being suspended by North Korea in protest of an annual combined military exercise of South Korea and the United States. The North has long denounced the allies' annual military exercise as a rehearsal for invasion.
On Monday, South Korea immediately expressed hope for the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue.
The reconnection of the communication lines is viewed as having "laid the ground for bringing the relations between the two Koreas back on track," the unification ministry said in a statement.
It added, "Through that stable management of the communication lines and swift resumption of dialogue, the government hopes to begin and advance substantive discussions on improving inter-Korean relations and making peace take root on the Korean Peninsula, along with implementing agreements between the two Koreas."
The two sides agreed to hold regular phone calls via the liaison office twice a day at 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the unification ministry said.
South Korea's defense ministry also expressed hope that the restoration of the hotlines would ease military tensions with North Korea.
The ministry said that both of the two direct military communication lines -- the western and eastern hotlines -- operated normally but Pyongyang has not answered the South's calls via ship-to-ship radio links that use the global merchant marine communication.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told Yonhap News Agency that Washington strongly supports inter-Korean cooperation, saying that the restored communication lines are important in creating a more stable environment on the Korean Peninsula.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency said South Korea "should make positive efforts to put the North-South ties on a right track and settle the important tasks ... bearing deep in mind the meaning of the restoration of communication lines."
North Korea's main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, carried a similar story on the restored hotlines, in a departure from July when the North kept news about the short-lived restoration of the hotlines out of media outlets for the domestic audience.
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un expressed his willingness to restore cross-border communication lines from early October, citing a bid "to realize the expectation and desire of the entire nation who want the North-South relations to be restored as soon as possible and lasting peace to be settled on the Korean Peninsula."
But he stressed that it is entirely up to South Korea when it comes to the future trajectory of their ties.
In a recent U.N. speech, South Korean President Moon Jae-in again proposed the declaration of a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War. North Korea called the offer an "admirable idea," saying that it is willing to discuss improving inter-Korean relations only when Seoul stops double standards against its "defensive" weapons tests and "hostile" policy toward its regime.
Unification Minister Lee In-young told reporters in Berlin on Sunday (local time) that South Korea will push to arrange high-level talks with North Korea before the end of this year. He was on a trip to three European countries, including Germany, to drum up support for Seoul's efforts to improve ties with Pyongyang.
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