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(LEAD) Unification minister says restoration of cross-border hotlines is a 'restart'

All News 20:31 October 04, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with minister's meeting with German president in last 4 paras)

BERLIN, Oct. 4 (Yonhap) -- Unification Minister Lee In-young said Monday that South and North Korea's restoration of cross-border hotlines marks a "restart" in efforts to improve ties.

Lee spoke to Yonhap News Agency during a visit to Berlin to mark the 31st anniversary of German reunification.

Earlier Monday, the two Koreas restored their communication lines 55 days after they were cut off by the North in protest of annual military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

This photo shows Unification Minister Lee In-young in Berlin on Oct. 3, 2021. (Yonhap)

Lee had previously told reporters that Seoul would push to hold high-level talks with Pyongyang before the end of the year.

"We have to do things in order, from building a video conference system to ensuring a stable (connection) through test calls, and then discussing anew the items that we have already come up with," the minister told Yonhap on Monday.

He noted that Seoul had already proposed a video conference system the last time communication lines were restored and that it will need to remind the North to help materialize it.

Asked what needs to be done to ensure the two Koreas jointly participate in next year's Beijing Winter Olympics, Lee said not everything has to start from scratch.

"There are roads that we've already taken quite some distance," he said, referring to the denuclearization talks held between Pyongyang and Washington from the two countries' Singapore summit in June 2018 until right before the Hanoi summit in February 2019.

In Seoul's case, the minister said it had a history of talks with Pyongyang from the Panmunjom summit in April 2018 through the Pyongyang summit in September that year.

"That's what's been suspended, so if we take that into consideration, all we need to do is talk and discuss which of our agenda items we'll begin working on," he said.

Unlike January 2018, however, when the two sides agreed on a North Korean delegation's visit to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, only days after restoring their communication lines, Lee said having in-person meetings could be difficult due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"That's why we should start with video conferences," he said.

Asked if he is also planning video reunions between families separated by the Korean War, he said, "That would be an item that comes next."

Lee paid a courtesy call on German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Bellevue Palace on Monday, asking that the president and the German people continue to be "good friends" for peace on the Korean Peninsula, according to Lee's office.

Steinmeier responded that he will always support peace on the peninsula and be a good friend, and welcomed news of the communication lines' restoration, the unification ministry said.

Meanwhile, the two sides talked for about an hour about a variety of issues related to the peninsula and inter-Korean relations.

Lee also delivered President Moon Jae-in's greetings to Steinmeier and a message of congratulations on the German reunification anniversary.

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