North and South Korea will open a joint liaison office on the North’s side of the heavily militarized border on Friday, a South Korean official said.
The joint liaison office, seen as the start of a de facto embassy, is another step toward closer cooperation between the two Koreas.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will hold their third meeting this year in Pyongyang next week, when it is hoped they can help resolve a diplomatic impasse between the United States and North Korea.
The South Korean government had hoped to open the office by August but it was delayed when denuclearization talks between the United States and North Korea stalled after an historic summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
However, Kim sent a message to South Korean envoys last week that he wants to achieve denuclearization during Trump’s first term. That followed what Trump described as a “very warm” letter from Kim requesting another meeting, which rekindled hopes for progress.
The two Koreas previously communicated by fax and special phone lines, which were at times cut off when inter-Korean relations sank, but will now be able to “communicate 24 hours, 365 days,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Baik Tae-hyun said this week.
Vice minister-level officials from North and South respectively will head the new office and will also serve as permanent negotiation representatives at weekly meetings, Baik said.
“We will manage inter-Korean relations stably and hope that this will also help the progress of denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States,” he said.
About 50-60 people each from North and South Korea will attend an opening ceremony for the new office on Friday, the unification ministry said.
It is located in Kaesong on North Korea’s side of the border, about 60 km (37 miles) from Seoul and 141 km from Pyongyang.