North Korea has re-established a key military phone line with
South Korea, after severing it nearly two weeks ago. That makes it easier for
the two sides to conduct simple communications. However, tensions remain high
prior to the North's promised missile launch.
South Korean officials say North Korea informed them Friday of plans to reconnect a military phone line at the heavily armed border between the two countries.
The North severed the line earlier this month in protest of two weeks of annual military drills between South Korea and the United States. The drills wrapped up Friday, and the inter-Korean phone lines are expected to be operational by Saturday.
The lack of a phone line made it difficult to coordinate limited border crossings by South Koreans who manage a joint North-South industrial park in the North Korean city of Kaesong.
Pyongyang compounded the inconvenience by restricting border crossings by South Korean managers. As of Friday, a group of South Koreans scheduled to cross into Kaesong were still waiting for a letter of approval to be hand-delivered across the border.
South Korean Vice Minister of Unification, Hong Yang-ho, chastised the North for its interference in Kaesong's operations.
He says many companies in Kaesong have experienced economic losses, and have begun to worry about issues of personal safety. He says North Korea should take responsibility for the losses due to its unreasonable behavior.
All of this is happening against the backdrop of an impending North Korean launch of a long-range rocket, which Pyongyang has promised will take place within weeks.
In a U.S. Senate hearing Thursday, the Commander of U.S. Forces in South Korea said the impending launch poses a serious regional threat. Analysts say the technology of launching a satellite - which is what North Korea says it is doing - is nearly identical to the technology of ballistic missiles that can carry warheads.
At the same Senate hearing, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific region, Navy Admiral Timothy Keating, expressed confidence in the U.S. ability to shoot down a North Korean missile. Neither the U.S. nor Japan have ruled out such a shootdown, which North Korea says will result in "war."
James Delaney was a former Central Intelligence Agency station chief in Seoul, and is now a private consulatant. He recommends making the North prove its launch is actually a satellite.
"If the North Koreans want to launch something that they declare is a satellite, then they have to allow an international inspection to determine that it is a satellite, otherwise we[the United States] will shoot it down," Delaney said. "That's my hypothetical as to how one would deal with that level of concern."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a defense ministry spokesman Friday as saying Seoul may be close to increasing its participation in a U.S.-led anti-proliferation campaign. He says the move would be a protest of the North's missile activities.