Breaking News

Senior UN official starts rare visit to North Korea

The United Nations (UN)’s undersecretary-general for political affairs has traveled to North Korea on a rare visit at the invitation of Pyongyang for a “policy dialog,” amid heightening tensions over the North Korean weapons program.

Jeffrey Feltman, who is a former American diplomat, started his four-day visit of North Korea on Tuesday.

Feltman is due to hold talks with North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and other senior officials as well as foreign diplomats and UN staff in the country, UN spokeswoman Eri Kaneko announced on Monday.

He is not, however, scheduled to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Kaneko did not provide more details on the trip, referring reporters to an official statement that said Feltman would discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern” with North Korean authorities.

Prior to his trip to Pyongyang, Feltman visited the Chinese capital of Beijing and held talks with China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong.

China is North Korea’s main economic and diplomatic ally, and it dispatched a senior diplomat to Pyongyang last month for talks with top officials amid increasing tensions over the North Korean weapons programs.

Feltman’s visit to North Korea is the first by a senior UN official in six years and comes after an initial informal invitation by Pyongyang that was reconfirmed on November 30, immediately following the North’s latest test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), according to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

The development coincides with the largest ever joint US-South Korea war games on the Korean Peninsula. The five-day military maneuvers began Monday and involve more than 200 warplanes and thousands of troops.

North Korea routinely censures such drills and cites them as the key reason for the continued development of its weapons program.

The US and its regional allies are opposed to the North Korean missile and nuclear programs. China, too, has reservations but is also opposed to provocations by the US.

The White House’s National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster warned on Saturday after Pyongyang’s latest missile test that the likelihood of a US war with North Korea was “increasing every day.”

The last visit by a senior UN official to North Korea was when Valerie Amos, then the UN’s aid chief, traveled there in October 2011. Feltman’s predecessor, Lynn Pascoe, also visited in 2010.