It happens at least twice a day. A pink phone in the U.S.- South Korean part of the Joint Security Area rings. On the other end is North Korea. The phone is an old-timey touchtone phone, and the calls come in at 0930 and 1530 every day. This is the first time since 2013 these calls have been made. Picking up the phone is Lt. Cmdr. Daniel McShane, U.S. Navy, and while he’s not talking to Kim Jong Un, these are the most important talks with the North since President Trump went to Hanoi.
It didn’t hurt, though.
In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, McShane told Timothy W. Martin that he actually has eight people on the other side of the demilitarized zone that he talks to now. While their exchanges are amenable but often brief, the important part is that someone is calling. For the years between 2013 and 2018, they weren’t – and that was a big problem.
“If they’re talking, they’re not shooting,” says McShane, who will speak to his counterparts in either English or Korean. In-between coordinating the return of Korean War dead, removing mines, and coordinating helicopters, the North Koreans have come to know McShane has a Korean girlfriend and that he loves baseball, especially the LA Dodgers. When there is no message, that’s okay too. They still call to tell McShane there is no message to send that day.
Even North and South Korea have begun to coordinate in recent years.
He’s not the only one who answers the phone, according to the Wall Street Journal, but he’s the most widely known. A few others around the office help him manage phone calls. The younger, enlisted people who have picked up the phone at times have marveled at how well the North Koreans speak English
“I worried about a communication barrier, but there are times when I think, ‘Wow, your English is better than mine!’ ” says Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keith Jordan. He and a handful of others help enforce the UN-brokered cease-fire. The two groups have even met face-to-face, the few groups who do so unarmed. For the time being, it seems that casual conversations about choco-pies and the Dodgers will be the limit of U.S.-North Korean interaction. But as long as that interaction is happening, neither side will be mobilizing for war.