A senior United Nations official arrived in North Korea on Tuesday to hold talks with government officials at the request of the Pyongyang government.
Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is scheduled during his four-day visit to meet Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk, diplomats and UN staff during his stay.
He will discuss with officials “issues of mutual interest and concern,” the United Nations said.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric added that the visit was in response to “a long-standing invitation from the authorities in Pyongyang for a policy dialogue with the UN.”
“He will also meet with the United Nations Country Team and members of the diplomatic corps, as well as visit UN project sites,” Dujarric told reporters, adding that Feltman was also visiting China.
When asked if Feltman was paving the way for a visit by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Dujarric said: “We hope to have more afterwards.”
Feltman will be the first senior UN official to travel to North Korea since his predecessor Lynn Pascoe visited in February 2010 and former UN aid chief Valerie Amos visited in October 2011, the United Nations said. Though Feltman previously worked for the State Department, he is not representing the US government.
The visit by Feltman follows the dispatch last month by China of its highest-level envoy to North Korea in two years. It wasn't clear what progress, if any, was made during that visit to ease a rift that has also been widening between Beijing and Pyongyang.
There are about 50 international staff working for six UN agencies in North Korea - the UN Development Program, the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the UN Population Fund.
The most senior American to visit North Korea in an official capacity recently was James R. Clapper, who as director of national intelligence traveled to Pyongyang in late 2014 to secure the release of two American citizens.
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.
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.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is expected to discuss the North Korean crisis with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during a meeting in Vienna this week, RIA news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying.
Trump announced on November 20 that the United States 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 program.