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N Korea at crossroads

Two Koreas to open joint liaison office in Kaesong on Friday

Facility will offer communications channel for exchanging messages between leaders

The Kaesong industrial complex is located in North Korea, close to the border with South Korea.   © AP

SEOUL -- The two Koreas will open a joint liaison office in the northern border city of Kaesong on Friday, launching a communications channel that will facilitate the exchange of messages from their leaders and reduce military tensions on the peninsula.

The South Korean Ministry of Unification said officials from the North and the South will work together at the office, arranging talks between Seoul and Pyongyang as well as supporting civilians traveling between the two nations.

"The liaison office will play the role of our communications channel, improving inter-Korean relations, lowering military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, as well as establishing peace," said Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesperson of the ministry. "We expect the office will manage inter-Korean relations stably through communications 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. We also want it to help improve denuclearization talks between North Korea and the U.S."

The announcement comes two days after the White House said it was coordinating with North Korea to arrange the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump accepted Kim's offer to meet face-to-face again, which the young dictator suggested in a letter after their first meeting in Singapore in June.

The ministry said that vice minister-level officials from the two Koreas will man the office as joint chiefs, their mission to exchange messages from their leaders. President Moon Jae-in will visit Pyongyang next week to hold his third summit with Kim.

Jin Chang-soo, a senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, a private think tank, welcomed the move to open the office, but South Korea should be careful to adhere to the United Nations' sanctions imposed on North Korea. "The liaison office itself is not bad because it opens a channel, which can improve communications. However, South Korea needs to pay attention not to violate sanctions as the international community worries about this."

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