UN’s North Korea Envoy Deeply Worried After Trip, Diplomat Says

Updated on
  • Feltman visited Pyongyang after late-November missile test
  • Envoy says North Koreans aren’t ready to enter talks
North Korea Crisis Continues to Escalate

The United Nations envoy to North Korea returned from that country deeply worried about the prospects for bringing an end to Kim Jong Un’s nuclear weapons program, according to a European member of the Security Council who was briefed on the visit.

The envoy, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, reported that the North Koreans don’t believe the time is right for negotiations, according to the diplomat, who asked not to be identified discussing a closed-door briefing. Kim’s regime plans to continue developing its nuclear program until it achieves a deterrent capability, the person said.

Feltman’s trip to Pyongyang followed a late-November missile test that North Korea said showed it can now reach the entirety of the continental U.S. Most military analysts, however, say it’s not clear North Korea can yet put a miniaturized nuclear weapon on that type of missile, protect it from burning up on re-entry in the Earth’s atmosphere and successfully deliver it to the U.S.

Jeffrey Feltman in Pyongyang on Dec. 7.

Photographer: Kim Won-jin/AFP via Getty Images

“Under-Secretary-General Feltman conveyed to Council members in vivid terms his deep concern about the situation in the Korean Peninsula,” Jose Luis Diaz, a spokesman for Feltman said. “There is in Pyongyang a somewhat different assessment of the issue.”

After meeting with the Security Council on Tuesday, Feltman told reporters he was unsure about the impact of his discussions in Pyongyang.

“I think we’ve left the door ajar,” Feltman said. “I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide.”

Read a QuickTake Q&A on what the U.S. and its allies can do about North Korea

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will take part in a Security Council meeting Friday focused on North Korea. On Tuesday, Tillerson said that the U.S. is prepared to talk with North Korea after a “quiet period” without nuclear or missile tests.

“Let’s just meet. We can talk about the weather if you want," Tillerson said in a speech Tuesday at the Atlantic Council in Washington. "We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table if that’s what you’re excited about."

But Tillerson’s remarks generated confusion about whether the U.S. is looking to have talks without preconditions. After his speech, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders issued a statement she said was in response to Tillerson’s comments:

“The President’s views on North Korea have not changed. North Korea is acting in an unsafe way not only toward Japan, China, and South Korea, but the entire world. North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”

‘Extreme’ Sanctions

And while Tillerson said he was willing to meet North Korean officials, he made clear that the U.S. refuses to accept an outcome that leaves the country with nuclear weapons. North Korea must be ready to “make a different” choice with regards to its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs for talks to continue, Tillerson said.

Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, said at a press briefing Wednesday that China welcomed all efforts to resolve the issue through dialogue and hopes the U.S. and North Korea could “walk in the same direction, taking some meaningful steps toward dialogue and contact.”

Ambassador Joseph Yun, the U.S. Special Representative to North Korea Policy, is in Asia this week to meet regional officials “to discuss ways to strengthen the pressure campaign” on North Korea, though the State Department said he will not be meeting North Korea officials.

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams

(Adds comments from envoy’s office in fourth paragraph and Tillerson’s comments starting in seventh paragraph.)
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