Pyongyang needs to find exit from nuclear crisis
Undersecretary-General Jeffrey Feltman’s visit to North Korea appears to be a positive signal on global efforts to defuse tension over the country’s nuclear and missile threats. Feltman, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, began a four-day visit to the North, Tuesday.
The rare trip to the isolated country by a senior United Nations official is drawing keen attention. It comes after the North test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, last week, which it claimed was capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.
Pyongyang declared it had completed the development of its nuclear weapons system through the successful launch of the ICBM. The launch followed its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September. These provocations have escalated the tension, raising the possibility of the U.S. using military options to solve the nuclear crisis.
Feltman’s visit carries implications for the crisis as it may offer an opportunity to open dialogue between the reclusive country and international society. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Feltman will discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern” with North Korean officials.
He is expected to meet Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong-guk as well as U.N. staff stationed in the North. It is unclear whether he will meet with the young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. If such a meeting takes place, it may indicate that the Kim regime is interested in talks with the international body and probably with the U.S.
Feltman is also likely to talk with his hosts about a potential visit by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the North. If Pyongyang allows his visit, the U.N. chief may broker talks to find a negotiated solution to the crisis. Guterres has already shown his willingness to play a mediating role to create peace on the Korean Peninsula.
On the part of North Korea, the Kim regime may need to find an exit from the ever-rising confrontation with the U.S. and its allies. Speculation has it that the North will come back to negotiations after it completes its nuclear program. Pyongyang reportedly wants to have direct talks with Washington on the condition that the latter recognizes it as a nuclear state. But the U.S. and its allies cannot accept this condition.
For now, it is unlikely there will be a major breakthrough from the U.N. official’s mediating efforts because no one knows what the North really wants. Critics question the intention of Pyongyang’s invitation to Feltman to the country. The North may try to use his visit as a ploy to prevent the world from taking harsher sanctions against it.
Despite such skepticism, we hope that the U.N. will keep serving as a mediator to solve the North Korean issue peacefully. Feltman ought to deliver to the Kim leadership the international community’s determination not to tolerate its nuclear blackmail. And Pyongyang should drop its hostility and return to dialogue to avoid self-destruction before it’s too late.