Senior United Nations official begins rare visit to North Korea

A senior United Nations official has arrived in Pyongyang for a rare, four-day visit at the invitation of the North Korean government.

Undersecretary-general for political affairs Jeffrey Feltman is scheduled to meet foreign minister Ri Yong Ho, vice minister Pak Myong Guk, diplomats and UN staff during his stay.

They are expected to discuss a wide range of issues.

Mr Feltman, the highest-ranking American in the UN secretariat, is the first person in that post to visit North Korea since February 2010.

Though Mr Feltman previously worked for the state department, he is not representing the US government.

The most senior American to visit North Korea in an official capacity recently was James R Clapper, who as director of national intelligence travelled to Pyongyang in late 2014 to secure the release of two American citizens.

U.N. Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, center, poses with two unidentified accompanying colleagues upon arrival at the Pyongyang International Airport. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

A delegation headed by state department special representative Joseph Yun flew to Pyongyang to oversee the release of American college student Otto Warmbier in June this year.

Mr Feltman's visit comes amid high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The US and South Korean militaries are holding a major air force exercise and just last week Pyongyang test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts say could hit Washington.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, have traded insults and engaged in escalating rhetoric in recent months.

Mr Trump announced on November 20 that the US was returning North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism and promised to intensify a campaign of "maximum pressure" and sanctions as part of a rolling effort to compel Kim's government to negotiate over its nuclear programme.

The visit by Mr Feltman follows the dispatch last month by China of its highest-level envoy to North Korea in two years.

It was not clear what progress, if any, was made during that visit to ease a rift that has also been widening between Beijing and Pyongyang.

Six UN agencies, with approximately 50 international staff, are represented in North Korea.



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