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Politics

UN faces uphill course to broker North Korea talks

Political chief in Pyongyang, but concessions seen as unlikely

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON -- The United Nations aims to draw Pyongyang back to the negotiating table by sending a high-ranking official to the reclusive state, but whether the visit will produce any concessions from North Korea remains unclear. 

Jeffrey Feltman, undersecretary-general for political affairs, traveled to Pyongyang in response to an invitation by the North for a policy dialogue with the U.N. He is expected to meet with officials including Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.

Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said only that the visit will involve "wide-ranging policy discussion." Feltman is expected to urge Pyongyang to comply with Security Council resolutions and end its provocative nuclear and missile tests.

But North Korea has objected vociferously to Security Council sanctions. Sticking with the same approach is likely to do no more than underscore the rift between Pyongyang and the international community.

The U.S. apparently signaled approval of Feltman's trip and presumably is keeping an eye out for the North's response.

But the basic strategy of President Donald Trump's administration on North Korea remains maximum pressure, mainly via economic sanctions. Hopes of China making a difference by wielding its considerable economic influence over its neighbor dimmed after a special envoy sent by President Xi Jinping in November failed to secure a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Washington does not seem to expect much from the U.N.'s efforts to broker dialogue. Asked about Feltman's visit, a spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. said that "while our focus remains on finding a peaceful diplomatic solution, the reality is that the regime has shown no interest in credible negotiations."

Yet the fact that Pyongyang sought an opening for talks with the U.N. at all indicates alarm at its growing isolation as the Kim regime feels the bite of sanctions that have cut off sources of foreign currency. Countries including the U.S., Japan and South Korea are watching to see what the North will ask of the U.N. as a mediator to gauge how well the sanctions are working.

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