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Chairman Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., reads his notes during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on North Korea on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., says he's "fine" with North and South Korea officials communicating with each other directly.

"It's really weird," the Chattanooga Republican said, noting that despite the decades-long tense and dangerous relationship between totalitarian North Korea and democratic South Korea, "they've always had a person appointed to be in charge of reunification."

According to multiple news accounts, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a border hotline with South Korea for the first time in two years Wednesday, allowing for direct communications and possible easing of continued tensions that have escalated amid North Korea's testing of nuclear weapons and missiles that could strike the United States.

Corker said he realizes "there have been concerns" North Korea's aim is to "create a wedge between South Korea and the United States. But I think it's fine that they've been talking."

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FILE — Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), right, introduces Donald Trump, then a candidate for president, at a campaign rally in Raleigh, N.C., on July 5, 2016. Now Corker's name is bandied about as a Trump challenger in 2020. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)
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South Korea President Moon Jae-in has called for more dialogue with North Korea since his inauguration last May, The New York Times has reported. Moon has urged North Korea to participate in the Winter Olympics that South Korea is hosting and resume talking.

Speaking with Times Free Press editors and reporters on a wide range of issues, Corker on Thursday recalled how several years ago he visited the demilitarized zone between the two countries that was established after the 1950-1953 Korean War. He noted the now nearly 65-year-old, often uneasy armistice that has existed ever since.

Citing the volatile situation, Corker said that not very long before his visit to the demilitarized zone, nighttime activity by an animal resulted in shots being fired there.

"You know, you do worry about tensions being so high there," Corker added. "We got 28,500 [U.S. military personnel] stationed in South Korea." Most are in or near the DMZ, he noted.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump responded to a televised speech by North Korea dictator Kim Jong Un in which the dictator said he had a "nuclear button" on his desk that he was prepared to use against the U.S.

The president said on Twitter Tuesday that his own nuclear button "is a much bigger & more powerful one than [Kim Jong Un's], and my Button works."

Corker has cited concerns about some of Trump's past tweets on sensitive foreign relations issues.

Asked about Trump's latest tweet on Kim Jong Un, Corker said, "I haven't kept up with all of them, although I've seen many of them. I don't know. To me, this is relative to some of the comments that have been made in the past by me, I think, that dealing with foreign policy with 140 characters can be very problematic."

Still, Corker largely agreed with another Trump tweet in which the president blistered Pakistani leaders by charging the U.S. "has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years, and they have given us nothing but lies & deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more!"

Said Corker: "I couldn't agree more" with Trump.

The senator said Pakistan has "the most duplicitous government I've ever dealt with in my life."

He said Pakistan's security services "absolutely, absolutely will look at us and tell untruths to us non-stop. They definitely have allowed the Haqqani network to flourish inside Afghanistan."

The Haqqani network is comprised of insurgent guerrilla fighters.

Corker said that group is the "greatest threat to our men and women in uniform in Afghanistan, and they've helped harbor them. They've given them get-out-of-jail-free passes, meaning when they pass through block points they let 'em through."

The senator said because of that he pushed successfully to cut off funding for Pakistani military equipment purchases.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter at @AndySher1.

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