Ban admits he’s trying to get to North Korea soon

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Ban admits he’s trying to get to North Korea soon

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged for the first time that he is negotiating a trip to North Korea with the government in Pyongyang.

“I’m working hard to [make a visit to North Korea] at the earliest possible date,” Ban told reporters Monday after he paid respects at a memorial altar for former President Kim Young-sam at the South Korean mission to the United Nations in New York.

His comments indicated progress had been made in the discussions for his visit although fine-tuning of the details still needed to be done.

“Recently, a somewhat positive signal on this has come,” said Ban. “Also, we are in the process of mediating when a visit to North Korea would be best. But nothing has been decided yet.”

If the Pyongyang trip is realized, Ban’s visit would be the first by a UN chief to North Korea in some 22 years.

Two other UN secretary generals, Kurt Waldheim and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, visited North Korea, and both met with North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, added, “As I have always said since early in my term as secretary general, if given the opportunity, in my capacity both as the UN chief and as a South Korean national, I would try to play a role, which includes a visit to North Korea, in promoting inter-Korean peace and reconciliation and to reduce tensions.”

Neither the circumstances nor inter-Korean relations were optimal for such a visit until recently, he said.

“It is true that [North Korean] Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong recently visited the UN twice,” said Ban, “and we took the opportunity to meet and discuss the various roles of the UN secretary general.”

Ri was most recently at the United Nations headquarters at the beginning of October when he addressed a session of the UN General Assembly.

When reporters asked Ban if Pyongyang had proposed dates after a visit planned for Nov. 23 fell through, the UN chief replied, “There has been no offer yet.”

The General Assembly’s Third Committee last week passed a strongly-worded resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights violations that for a second year recommends referring violators to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The resolution is expected to be passed by the General Assembly next month, which could annoy Pyongyang and get in the way of a visit by the UN chief.

Ban served as senior secretary for foreign affairs and national security to the late President Kim Young-sam, who passed away Sunday. He said at the memorial altar that the former’ president’s would be remembered as a “central figure in Korea’s miraculous transformation to democracy.”

He added, “I have personally learned a lot from him.” Ban was selected as an advisor to the funeral committee for former President Kim Tuesday.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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