Hopes rise of nuclear breakthrough as UN chief visits North Korea

United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Picture: PA
United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon. Picture: PA
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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Pyongyang this week for a possible meeting with leader Kim Jong Un.

The trip would come six months after Pyongyang at the last minute cancelled an invitation for Mr Ban to visit an inter-Korean factory park in the North Korean city of Kaesong. Mr Ban has said North Korea gave no reason for the cancellation. He had not planned to visit Pyongyang at that time.

South Korean news agency Yonhap cited an unidentified source in the UN when it reported Mr Ban’s Pyongyang trip. It gave no details on the purpose of the trip or the day it would take place.

If the trip does take place, Mr Ban would be the first UN head to visit North Korea since Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993. Yonhap, quoting a UN source, said Mr Ban is expected to meet Mr Kim because it is unlikely for the secretary-general to visit a UN member state without meeting the country’s leader.

The source was quoted as saying Mr Ban’s trip could serve as a breakthrough in the stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme and strained ties between the two Koreas. Mr Ban was South Korea’s foreign minister before taking up the top UN job.

Mr Ban had said before his cancelled Kaesong park trip that he hoped his visit would help improve ties between the Koreas. Analysts in Seoul said at the time that Pyongyang may have scrapped the trip because it felt Mr Ban would back only the views of Washington and Seoul.

International nuclear disarmament talks remain stalled since early 2009 and experts believe North Korea has since built a small and growing atomic bomb arsenal and advanced its missile programme. Hundreds of thousands of combat troops from the two Koreas face each other along the world’s most heavily fortified border.