NEW YORK: The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday he is trying to visit North Korea as early as possible, the first time he has acknowledged that talks are under way to set up a trip to the communist nation, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
Ban made the remark to reporters when he visited South Korea’s mission to the UN to pay his respects to late former South Korean President Kim Young-sam.
Ban’s possible plan has drawn keen attention as he’s expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
“I can’t talk (about travel plans) right now, but I’m working hard to make a visit to the North at the earliest possible date,” he told reporters.
Ban said there has been a “positive signal” from North Korea and the two sides are in talks to determine when is the best time to visit, but no decision has been made yet.
“I don’t think it would be that easy to set up a visit to the North,” he said. “As there are many sensitive issues, I hope you will wait a little with patience.”
Ban also said that he has maintained a position that he would “play a role as UN secretary-general and as a South Korean national if there is an opportunity to promote inter-Korean peace and reconciliation and reduce tensions.”
Ban said that he discussed the issue with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Su-yong when Ri visited the UN twice in recent months. Asked if he could visit the North before the end of the year, Ban declined to comment.
Yonhap News Agency first reported last week that Ban is planning to visit Pyongyang.
Should Ban’s trip be realised, he will be the third UN secretary-general to visit North Korea after Kurt Waldheim in 1979 and Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993.
Both Waldheim and Boutros-Ghali met with North Korea’s founding leader, Kim Il-sung, during their visits to Pyongyang.
Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, has repeatedly said that he will do everything possible to promote inter-Korean reconciliation and a resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.
In May, Ban planned to visit the North Korean border city of Kaesong, where South Korea runs an industrial complex, but the trip was called off at the last minute because Pyongyang abruptly withdrew its invitation for no clear reason.