- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2015

United Nations officials on Monday were giving no details on reports that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will make a path-breaking visit to North Korea as soon as this week, amid rising speculation over what could be on the agenda.

South Korea’s Yonhap News first reported the planned trip, which would make Mr. Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister whose U.N. term ends next year, the first U.N. secretary-general to visit the secretive and authoritarian North in over two decades.

Yonhap News cited an unidentified U.N. official as the source of its story, but Mr. Ban’s office did not confirm the visit and South Korea’s Unification Ministry said it was investigating the affair, CNN reported. The U.N. has not officially commented on Mr. Ban’s travel plans.

No specific time or location has been released, but among the elements of the trip are expected to be a meeting with the North’s leader Kim Jong Un, Yonhap reported.

“There can’t be such a situation where the U.N. secretary-general visits North Korea and does not meet with the supreme leader of the U.N. member-state,” the U.N. official said.

The visit would come at yet another period of rising tensions between North and South, with South Korean intelligence reports last month pointing to preparations by Pyongyang for another test of the North’s nuclear weapons programs, the first such test in two years. The North has faced sweeping economic and diplomatic sanctions from the U.S. and its allies over its nuclear programs and its human rights record.


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North Korea’s nuclear program has stirred unrest in the international community as the country refuses to give up nuclear facilities and has launched three nuclear tests in recent years.

“The key point of discussion will have to be the U.N. sanctions on the North’s weapons of mass destruction program,” Yoo Ho-yeol, an expert on North Korea at the University near Seoul, told the Reuters news agency. “The message by the North may be that it is willing to be flexible on the issue.”

“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, told Bloomberg Business.

The report of the visit comes after October saw roughly 400 South Koreans cross the border into the North to briefly reunite with family members after being separated by the Korean War more than a half-century ago.

Mr. Ban would be the third U.N. secretary-general to visit North Korea, and the first since Egyptian U.N. chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali traveled there in 1993.

Mr. Ban’s trip planned for last May to visit an industrial complex owned by South Korea was canceled the day before it was set to take place, after North Korea abruptly dropped its invitation.

“Bringing peace to the Korean Peninsula is one of the most important tasks for me as a U.N. chief,” Mr. Ban said at the time. “Having talks are the only solution.”

This would not be Mr. Ban’s first trip to the North. He visited the North across the heavily militarized border zone between the two Koreas in 2004, after being appointed foreign minister that year.

“The secretary-general has always said that he is ready to play any role in order to help enhance dialogue, stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Mr. Ban’s spokesman told Yonhap News.

This article was based in part on wire service reports.


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