- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 24, 2015

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hopes to make a landmark visit to North Korea as soon as it can be arranged, he told reporters Monday in New York.

Asked about press reports that a possible trip to Pyongyang was in the works, Mr. Ban said, “That is something I cannot respond to at the moment, but I will say that we will make the effort to do so at the earliest possible date.”

Mr. Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister whose term ends next year, spoke to reporters after signing a condolence book at the South Korean U.N. permanent mission office.

The secretary-general revealed that North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong visited the U.N. headquarters and met with Mr. Ban twice, discussing Mr. Ban’s possible role in promoting peace on the bitterly divided Korean Peninsula.

“Recently on this there has been a bit of a positive signal from the DPRK, and we are at the moment coordinating when would be the best time to visit the DPRK, but so far nothing has been decided,” Mr. Ban said, using the initials for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The visit would be the first by a U.N. secretary-general in more than 20 years, and could be a signal that the secretive regime of young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was considering opening up — at least a little — to diplomatic overtures. The North has been severely isolated on the world stage because of its nuclear weapons programs, its militaristic foreign policy and its record on human rights and political liberties.

Earlier this month South Korea’s Yonhap news reported Mr. Ban would be visiting North Korea, citing an unnamed U.N. official, but the secretary-general’s spokesman denied plans for the visit.

An earlier plan by Mr. Ban to visit North Korea in May was cancelled abruptly when North Korea rescinded the invitation.

“As a national of [South Korea], I have often stated … my willingness to play any role if there was an opportunity, including through a visit to North Korea, to promote peace and reconciliation between the South and North Koreas, and reduce tensions,” Mr. Ban said Monday. “Once the decision is made, I will inform the reporters, and proceed with the visit to the DPRK.”

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