UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. undersecretary-general for political affairs will travel to North Korea on Tuesday in a rare visit by a high-ranking official amid heightened tensions over the reclusive state's nuclear weapons program.
Jeffrey Feltman will stay through Friday to meet with a number of officials, including Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong Guk, for a "wide-ranging policy discussion," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. While the U.N. declines to elaborate, the North's missile and nuclear development is likely to be on the agenda.
He will also meet with other diplomats stationed in North Korea and visit U.N. project sites. Dujarric did not touch on the possibility of Feltman meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. All eyes will be on whether the U.N. can act as a mediator to resolve the standoff between Pyongyang and Washington. Feltman is an American diplomat who had previously served as a U.S. assistant secretary of state.
North Korea said on Nov. 29 (local time) it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile, which is capable of reaching the U.S., as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.
At a U.N. Security Council meeting last week to discuss the missile test, U.N. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said that while Washington does not seek war with Pyongyang, "if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed."
Ready to mediate
Feltman's visit is in "response to a long-standing invitation from the authorities in Pyongyang for policy dialogue with the U.N.," Dujarric said in a daily news briefing after announcing the trip. The invitation to Feltman originally came on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in September, but the trip was not confirmed until Nov. 30, he said.
Though there are no plans for Guterres to visit the North at this point, Dujarric reiterated that the U.N. chief's "good offices are always available should all the parties involved request it," regarding the possibility of mediation efforts in response to regional tensions emanating from the North Korean nuclear issue.
Guterres will travel to Japan on Dec. 13 to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and attend the Universal Health Coverage Forum. Discussion of North Korea is not on the agenda. But Dujarric said that "I have no doubt that regional issues will come up in the discussions" with Abe and that "I would be surprised if they didn't."
The last undersecretary-general for political affairs to travel to North Korea was B. Lynn Pascoe in February 2010. And in October 2011, then-Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos visited.
The U.S. and South Korea began large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, a move North Korea had said would push the Korean peninsula to "the brink of nuclear war."