UN political chief heads to North Korea on rare visit

By: 
EDITH M. LEDERER
Source: 
Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS: The U.N. political chief is heading to North Korea on a rare four-day visit at the invitation of the government for a wide-ranging discussion on policy issues “of mutual interest and concern.”

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman would arrive in Pyongyang on Tuesday from Beijing, where he met with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong on Monday.

Asked whether Feltman would meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Dujarric said that his current schedule included meetings with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk, diplomats and U.N. staff.

Feltman is the highest-ranking American in the U.N. Secretariat. He was tapped by former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to be the U.N. political chief in 2012 after serving for nearly 30 years in the U.S. Foreign Service, where his last post was as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who succeeded Ban, extended his term until April 1, 2018.

Feltman’s visit comes at a time of heightened tensions between North Korea and South Korea, Japan and the United States, sparked by the reclusive country’s frequent missile launches and recent nuclear test, and particularly by its latest launch of a long-range ballistic missile last week which experts say could hit Washington.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump have traded insults and engaged in escalating rhetoric in recent months.

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Trump threatened “to totally destroy North Korea” if the U.S. is forced to defend itself or its allies and he later tweeted that Kim — whom he called “little rocket man” — “won’t be around much longer.”

Kim responded to the U.S. leader by promising to “tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire,” and Foreign Minister Ri called Trump’s tweet a “declaration of war” and said that North Korea has the right to retaliate and shoot down U.S. bombers.

Trump announced on Nov. 20 that the United States was returning North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism and promised to intensify a campaign of “maximum pressure” and sanctions as part of a rolling effort to compel Kim’s government to negotiate over its nuclear program.

Dujarric declined to give any further details on Feltman’s trip or say whether he would discuss a possible visit to North Korea by Guterres.

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