A senior United Nations official will begin a four-day trip to North Korea on Tuesday for talks with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and other officials, a week after the isolated regime launched its most powerful missile to date.
The visit by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman was arranged after the UN received an invitation from Pyongyang for policy dialogue, the UN’s department of political affairs wrote on Twitter. Feltman will discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern,” and meet with UN staff and diplomatic corps, according to a UN statement.
The trip follows North Korea’s launch last week of a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that it says can deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere in the U.S. The U.S. and South Korea are conducting a massive joint air exercise on the Korean peninsula involving 230 aircraft and 12,000 American troops. North Korea has dubbed it the largest-ever such drill, though the U.S. said it is similar in size to previous exercises.
Pyongyang said ahead of the Vigilant Ace 18 drills that it would consider the “highest-level hard-line countermeasure in history,” according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. It referred to a similar statement in September, which Ri said may include a ground-level test of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.
North Korea regularly cites military drills around the peninsula as justification for its nuclear and missile-testing program. President Donald Trump is pushing both sanctions and diplomatic isolation in a bid to convince North Korea to abandon its weapons program, and has kept the military option on the table.
Even so, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last month he can envision having a conversation ahead of formal negotiations. Russian lawmaker Vitaly Pashin, who recently visited Pyongyang, said Monday that North Korean officials are ready for one-on-one or multiparty talks now that they’ve become a nuclear power capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
At last week’s UN Security Council meeting to discuss additional sanctions, envoys around the horseshoe-shaped table fell into familiar camps. The U.S., the U.K. and Japan, on one side, placing full blame for tensions on North Korea, while China and Russia said the responsibility fell more widely.
The U.S. demanded last week that China cut off all oil exports to North Korea, with Ambassador Nikki Haley warning that the U.S. could “take the oil situation into our own hands.”