Glimmer of hopeA top UN official’s visit to Pyongyang on Tuesday draws our attention. Jeffrey Feltman, undersecretary general for political affairs at the United Nations, is on a trip to North Korea amid heightened tension between Washington and Pyongyang after the North tested its most advanced ICBM last week. His visit suggests that there is still a possibility of dialogue with the recalcitrant state before both sides end up pulling Northeast Asia into an unparalleled crisis.
A UN spokesperson tersely said that Feltman will visit several UN projects in the reclusive nation. But he will most likely meet with high-ranking North Korean officials, including Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho, and discuss thorny issues such as Pyongyang’s relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons and the international community’s tough sanctions. Under intense pain from the UN-led sanctions, North Korea will almost certainly demand of him that the international body ease its sanctions.
In that case, Feltman’s visit can pave the way for North Korea to come to the negotiating table through UN arbitration. There are increasing signs that the North wants dialogue to break the deadlock. Above all, Pyongyang’s acceptance of the senior UN official’s visit is interpreted as an appeasement gesture. A number of security experts came up with the analysis that North Korea would not start to talk until it completes its ICBM technology in order to maximize its negotiating power.
That means North Korea will come to the bargaining table after finishing the development of its nuclear missiles. After the launch of its Hwasong-15 ICBM on Nov. 28, North Korea officially declared it had wrapped up nuclear armament development. Therefore, the UN official could achieve some meaningful results from his meetings with top North Korean officials. Feltman — appointed by former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon — served for nearly thirty years in the United States foreign service. In other words, he can closely communicate with the State Department.
Regarding Feltman’s trip to North Korea, our foreign ministry said it has been in close consultation with the United Nations. That means that our government and the UN had been coordinating over his visit. Dark clouds are gathering fast over the Korean Peninsula, particularly after China’s announcement of a large-scale air surveillance drill in reaction to the joint Korea-U.S. Air Force drill that began last week. The government must not miss a rare opportunity for dialogue through close cooperation with the United Nations.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 6, Page 34