SEOUL – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will visit Pyongyang this week and may meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Yonhap News reported, citing a U.N. official it did not identify.
Ban’s earlier plan to visit North Korea was canceled at the last minute in May, prompting him to express regret. The former South Korean foreign minister has said in the past he is willing to go to North Korea to help ease tensions on the peninsula. Ban’s spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, declined comment on the Yonhap report.
“It would be a symbolic trip that helps foster an atmosphere for talks,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said by phone. “Lots of topics could be on the table, from North Korean human rights issues to the nuclear problem to inter-Korean relations.”
North Korea and South Korea struck an agreement in August to ratchet down tensions and in October held the first reunions in more than a year of families separated by the Korean War. South Korean President Park Geun-hye said last week in a written interview with regional news agencies that she was open to meeting Kim if ties improve further.
If Ban does indeed visit, it would be an opportunity for Kim to push his argument that his country should be recognized by the international community as a nuclear-armed nation with an ability to launch a satellite into space.
It would be “impossible” for a U.N. chief to not meet with the head of a U.N. member nation he’s visiting, Yonhap quoted the unidentified official as saying. It’s unclear if Ban requested the visit or North Korea invited him, it said.
North Korea has snubbed calls by the U.S., South Korea and other nations to start dismantling its nuclear facilities to enable aid-for-disarmament talks to resume. The regime in Pyongyang has conducted three nuclear tests since 2006 and continues to develop long-range missiles that could carry nuclear warheads, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
North Korea has declared a no-sail zone off its eastern coast until Dec. 7, suggesting it may be preparing to test-fire a missile into the waters between the peninsula and Japan, Yonhap said Sunday.
North Korea vowed earlier this year to continue launching long-range rockets to put a satellite in orbit. The U.S. and South Korea call such launches tests of ballistic missile technology. The two countries have approved a joint plan to detect and destroy North Korean missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction if needed.