The United Nations’ political affairs chief will visit North Korea this week, making the highest-level visit by a U.N. official in more than six years as tensions grip the region over Pyongyang’s nuclear and weapons programs.
Jeffrey Feltman, a former senior U.S. State Department official, will visit from Tuesday to Friday and meet with officials to discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern,” the United Nations said.
He will meet with North Korea Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk, said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, adding the visit was in response to “a long-standing invitation from the authorities in Pyongyang for a policy dialogue with the U.N.”
“He will also meet with the United Nations Country Team and members of the diplomatic corps, as well as visit U.N. project sites,” Dujarric told reporters, adding that Feltman was also visiting China.
Feltman would be the first senior U.N. official to travel to North Korea since his predecessor Lynn Pascoe visited in February 2010 and former U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos visited in October 2011, the United Nations said.
The United States and South Korea went ahead with large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, a move North Korea had said would push the Korean peninsula to “the brink of nuclear war.” Russia and China wanted the drills called off.
The exercises were conducted a week after Pyongyang said it had tested its most advanced long-range ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States. North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its missile and nuclear programs.
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.”
Dujarric said North Korea issued the invitation for Feltman to visit on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations in New York in September, but the visit was confirmed only late last week.
When asked if Feltman was paving the way for a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Dujarric said: “We hope to have more afterwards.”
There are about 50 international staff working for six U.N. agencies in North Korea – the U.N. Development Programme, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.N. Population Fund.