The US and North Korea have no diplomatic ties — but they still have ways to talk about US soldier

Jul 20, 2023, 4:24 AM

Destination signs to North Korea's capital Pyongyang and the United States are seen at the Imjingak...

Destination signs to North Korea's capital Pyongyang and the United States are seen at the Imjingak Pavilion in Paju, South Korea, near the border with North Korea, Thursday, July 20, 2023. North Korea wasn't responding Thursday to U.S. attempts to discuss the American soldier who bolted across the heavily armed border and whose prospects for a quick release are unclear at a time of high military tensions and inactive communication channels. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A pink phone. A New York mission. Swedish diplomats. A North-South Korean hotline.

The United States and reclusive North Korea have no diplomatic ties — but they still have ways to contact each other. An American official said Wednesday that the U.S. government had reached out to the North as it tries to discuss a U.S. soldier border area this week. The North has not yet responded, according to the U.S.

Here’s a look at possible channels the rivals could use to discuss held in North Korea in nearly five years.



One of the most reliable ways for the U.S. to reach North Korea is via a light pink-colored, touch-tone phone at the U.S.-led U.N. Command at the Korean border village of Panmunjom, the place where King bolted into the North on Tuesday. The telephone line connects the liaison officers from each side — whose offices are reportedly only 40 meters (130 feet) apart.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Wednesday that the Pentagon reached out to its counterparts in the North’s Korean People’s Army but “those communications have not yet been answered.”

Miller didn’t elaborate. But observers say the U.S. likely used the “pink phone.”

In January, the U.N. Command tweeted that it had maintained “24/7/365” contact with the North’s army throughout 2022.

“Talking via the ‘pink phone,’ we passed 98 messages & held twice-daily line checks for timely & meaningful information exchange,” it said.

Moon Seong Mook, a retired South Korean brigadier general, said North Korean liaison officers appear to not be answering the calls made by the U.N. Command at the order of their higher-ups.

When North Korea previously suspended that telephone line, U.N. officers used a megaphone, Moon said.

The exact motive for King’s border crossing is unclear. He was convicted of assault in South Korea and could be discharged from the military and face other potential penalties.



Miller said the U.S. retains a number of channels to send messages to North Korea.

One of those is North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in New York that has provided a back-channel negotiation option for the two countries, serving as a kind of substitute embassy since they don’t have embassies in each other’s capitals.

The mission played an important role in working out details for the high-stakes summitry between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-U.S. President Donald Trump in 2018-19. At the start of their second summit in Vietnam, both Kim and Trump said they supported the opening of a U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang, but the idea was shelved after their diplomacy broke down.



Sweden, which does have relations with the North and an embassy in Pyongyang, has offered consular services for U.S. citizens, including those who had been detained in North Korea on charges of illegally entering the country or engaging in espionage acts.

Miller said State Department officials have reached out to Sweden on King’s case.

But a mediator role for Sweden could be complicated by the fact that its diplomats based in Pyongyang reportedly haven’t returned to the North since leaving the country due to its severe COVID-19 restrictions in 2020. Still, experts say the North’s Embassy in Sweden could be a channel for communications



The rival Koreas have a set of phone and fax channels of their own to set up meetings, arrange border crossings and avoid accidental military clashes. But North Korea has been unresponsive to South Korean attempts to exchange messages via those channels since April at a time of heightened animosities over the North’s nuclear program.

Kim Yeol Soo, an expert at South Korea’s Korea Institute for Military Affairs, said communication could happen via a hotline between the two Koreas’ spy agencies. That line was reportedly previously active when others stalled. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Seoul and Washington were in contact, without elaborating.



Kim, the expert, said North Korea won’t respond to the U.S. outreach until it completes its investigation of King, and that will likely take at least two weeks. After the investigation, he said that a protracted negotiation between the U.S. State Department and the North Korean Foreign Ministry is expected.

While King’s custody could provide North Korea with a tool to wrest diplomatic concessions from the U.S., the country would also find it difficult to detain a low-ranking solider without much high-profile intelligence on the U.S. for an extended period, Moon said.

“If he expresses his hopes to return home, it would be burdensome for North Korea to hold him but they would still try to reach a deal with the U.S. to get what it wants,” Moon, now an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, said.

In the past, North Korea released U.S. civilian detainees after high-profile Americans such as former presidents travelled to Pyongyang to win their freedoms. Kim said similar steps could be required in King’s case.

King’s entry to North Korea is an embarrassment to the U.S., said Chun In-bum, a retired lieutenant general who commanded South Korea’s special forces, noting that it came the same day that the United States took major steps toward boosting its security commitment to South Korea. It deployed a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in four decades and held the inaugural meeting of a bilateral nuclear consultative body with South Korea. North Korea test-fired two missiles on Wednesday, apparently in response.

“The news of the nuclear submarine and the nuclear consultative body were both buried by him,” said Chun.


Associated Press

Man who accosted former Rep. Lee Zeldin at campaign stop pleads guilty in federal case

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) — A man who climbed the platform at a campaign event in western New York last year and grappled with Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor charge of assaulting a federal officer. David Jakubonis, 44, faces up to a year in prison and a hefty fine at […]

36 minutes ago

Associated Press

Russia accuses US of promoting ties between Israel and Arabs before Israeli-Palestinian peace deal

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Russia accused the United States on Wednesday of promoting Israel’s normalization of relations with Arab nations and circumventing the Arab Peace Initiative launched by Saudi Arabia in 2002, which calls for a settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before any diplomatic recognition of Israel. The statement by Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Montana man pleads not guilty to threatening to kill President Joe Biden, US Senator Jon Tester

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Montana man has pleaded not guilty to federal charges alleging he threatened to kill President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, both Democrats, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Montana said. Anthony James Cross of Billings entered his plea on Tuesday. He remains detained. Cross, 29, has been […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Florida school district orders removal of all books with gay characters before slightly backing off

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Top officials at a Florida school district ordered the removal of all books and material containing LBGTQ+ characters and themes from classrooms and campus libraries, saying that was needed to conform to a state law backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” Charlotte County Schools […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Man who was rescued after falling overboard from tanker has died

BOSTON (AP) — A man who was rescued by the crew of a commercial fishing boat after he fell overboard from a tanker has died, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office said Wednesday. The crew of America pulled the man from the water Tuesday morning, and Boston Fire Department and Coast Guard personnel came aboard […]

5 hours ago

FILE - Former President Donald Trump pauses before ending his remarks at a rally in Summerville, S....

Associated Press

A judge found Trump committed fraud in building his real-estate empire. Here’s what happens next

WASHINGTON (AP) — A judge’s ruling that Donald Trump committed fraud as he built his real-estate empire tarnishes the former president’s image as a business titan and could strip him of his authority to make major decisions about the future of his marquee properties in his home state. The Tuesday order rescinds business licenses as […]

8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

The US and North Korea have no diplomatic ties — but they still have ways to talk about US soldier