A photo from the April 27, 2018, inter-Korean summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is displayed at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The leaders of North and South Korea restored suspended communication channels between them and agreed to improve ties, both governments said Tuesday, amid a 2 ½ year-stalemate in U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons. AP PHOTO
A photo from the April 27, 2018, inter-Korean summit between South Korean President Moon Jae-in, right, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is displayed at the Unification Observation Post in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. The leaders of North and South Korea restored suspended communication channels between them and agreed to improve ties, both governments said Tuesday, amid a 2 ½ year-stalemate in U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear weapons. AP PHOTO


SEOUL:
North and South Korea exchanged messages in communication channels that have been dormant for more than a year and agreed to improve ties - positive steps but ones that still leave any resumption of stalled negotiations to rid the North of its nuclear weapons a long way off.

Liaison officials from the Koreas had several phone conversations - including one on a military hotline - and agreed to resume speaking regularly, Seoul officials said.

The rivals use the channels to lay out their positions on issues and even propose broader dialogue, and the links are also critical to preventing any accidental clashes along their disputed sea boundary.

While the renewed communication could help ease tensions across the world's most heavily fortified border, it's only a small first step. Pyongyang is unlikely to revive vigorous cooperation programs with Seoul or get back to the nuclear talks led by the United States anytime soon.

Some experts say North Korea is instead aiming to improve ties with South Korea in the hopes it will persuade the United States to make concessions when nuclear diplomacy with Washington eventually does resume.

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Those efforts have been stalled for more than two years amid wrangling over punishing US-led sanctions on the North. During the diplomatic impasse, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal if the United Staes doesn't abandon its hostile policy, an apparent reference to the sanctions.

On Tuesday, the two Koreas announced their leaders - Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in - have traded personal letters several times since April and decided in those exchanges to resume communication in the channels.

Moon's office said the two leaders agreed to "restore mutual confidence and develop their relationships again as soon as possible."

The North's state media, for its part, said Kim and Moon agreed to "make a big stride in recovering the mutual trust and promoting reconciliation by restoring the cutoff inter-Korean communication liaison lines."

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the announcement of the reopening of communication channels and "fully supports the continued efforts of the parties toward the improvement of their relationship, sustainable peace, and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.

Tuesday's resumption of communication comes on the 68h anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, which pitted South Korea and US-led UN forces against North Korea and China.

That armistice has yet to be replaced with a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war with about 28,500 US troops still stationed in South Korea.