NEW YORK - North Korea has been pressing to secure a position at U.N. headquarters in New York for one of its officials through the world body’s work program, multiple U.N. sources familiar with the matter told Kyodo News on Saturday.
Washington and Tokyo have expressed serious concerns about the possibility, arguing that if a North Korean official secured a U.N. job within the Department of Political Affairs, for example, the official could be privy to confidential information that could advance the isolated country’s national interests.
The current head of the department, American Jeffrey Feltman, is responsible for briefing members of the U.N. Security Council when an emergency meeting on North Korea is convened. A number of such meetings have taken place this year as a result of a spate of ballistic missile tests carried out by the North.
Other information the two governments fear could be accessed by North Korea includes data gathered by an eight-member panel of experts tasked by the Security Council with making recommendations on how to implement sanctions against Pyongyang.
The expert panel, consisting of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — representing the five permanent Security Council members — as well as officials from Japan, South Korea and South Africa, collects critical information on how the North is evading sanctions. It also has access to classified intelligence and internal memos.
The United States and Japan have warned that if a North Korean were well placed within the Department of Political Affairs, that person could access such information and use it to the North’s advantage, possibly even getting one step ahead of the sanctions regime.
According to the U.N. sources, North Korea is hoping that the individual will be accepted into the United Nations’ Junior Professional Officer Program.
The program aims to help young professionals get a foothold in the international body by working with senior colleagues to gain experience working on assignments lasting two years in principle.
Such young professionals are sponsored by their national governments, which fund their placement in a range of U.N. organizations.
The possible candidate apparently accompanied Ri Su Yong, who served as North Korea’s foreign minister from April 2014 until May 2016, when he met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the United Nations last April.
Ri has since been promoted to vice chairman of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea and is considered to be among the inner circle working under Kim Jong Un. With such backing, a U.N. official stressed how the junior professional candidate would be considered highly valuable.
The person in question also has the special privilege of being able to travel abroad alone — indicating the level of trust placed in him by the North Korean leadership.
“As members of the United Nations they (North Koreans) are entitled to sign an agreement with United Nations on JPO,” Wu Hongbo, the U.N. undersecretary general for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, told Kyodo News when asked about the North Korean candidate.
Although he said he did not have details about this particular case at the time he was asked, he stressed that, “Each member of the 193 member states has the right to have access to the Junior Professional Officer Program arrangements.”
According to U.N. officials, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley also applied pressure at the highest levels by pressing U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres not to accept the North Korean official for a post at the Department of Political Affairs.
It remains to be seen whether or not he will be hired and where, but a final decision is expected in the near future.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s Deputy Ambassador Kim In Ryong took aim at the United States and the workings of the United Nations Secretariat in a press conference last month, claiming that the secretariat is skewed toward U.S. interests.
In particular, he complained that his country’s repeated calls to hold an international forum to discuss the legality of the U.N. sanctions resolutions have been ignored.
He has also warned that the United States should be prepared for “catastrophic consequences” if it presses for further sanctions against Pyongyang over its pursuit of what it considers nuclear deterrence for “self-defense” purposes.
The North has repeatedly threatened to carry out a sixth underground nuclear test, which it is banned from doing under previous council resolutions.
There are also increasing concerns that Pyongyang may launch an intercontinental ballistic missile that would bring the United States within its reach as it develops its nuclear capabilities.