A senior United Nations envoy arrived at Beijing’s airport on Tuesday reported to be on his way to North Korea for a rare visit aimed at defusing soaring tensions over Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch. The developments assume significance as it comes less than a week after North Korea said it test-fired a new ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.
News agency AFP reported Jeffrey Feltman’s arrival in a UN-flagged car at the Chinese capital’s international airport in the morning.
The trip also comes a day after the United States and South Korea launched their biggest-ever joint air exercise – manoeuvres slammed by Pyongyang as an “all-out provocation”.
The five-day Vigilant Ace drill involves 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and tens of thousands of troops, Seoul’s air force said.
Once in the North, Feltman will discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern” with officials, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding he was unable to say whether Feltman will meet with the reclusive state’s leader Kim Jong-Un.
It will be Feltman’s first visit to North Korea since he took office five years ago, and the first by a UN under- secretary-general in more than seven years.
The UN envoy is also planning to see foreign diplomats and UN workers in the North on humanitarian missions, Dujarric said.
The UN Security Council has criticised North Korea and imposed sanctions after its increasingly powerful missile and nuclear tests, which have rattled Washington and its regional allies South Korea and Japan.
Pyongyang ramped up already high tensions on the Korean Peninsula five days ago when it announced it had successfully test-fired a new ICBM, which it says brings the whole of the continental United States within range.
In recent years, Pyongyang has accelerated its drive to bring together nuclear and missile technology capable of threatening the US, which it accuses of hostility.
As tensions surged, US Senator Lindsey Graham, an influential Republican and foreign policy hawk, warned that the US was moving closer to “preemptive war” if the North continued its nuclear tests.
His remarks echoed those of Trump’s National Security Adviser HR McMaster, who told a security forum on Saturday that the potential for war with the North “is increasing every day.”
But some Trump advisers say US military options are limited when Pyongyang could launch an artillery barrage on the South Korean capital – only around 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the heavily-fortified border and home to 10 million people.
Tokyo’s parliament yesterday slammed the North’s weapons programme as an “imminent threat”. Last week’s missile landed in Japan’s economic waters.
China’s foreign ministry warned that the situation on the Korean peninsula remained “highly sensitive” and called on all sides to “do more things to ease the tension and avoid provoking each other.”
The North has boasted that the Hwasong 15 ICBM tested on Wednesday is capable of delivering a “super-large” nuclear warhead anywhere in the US mainland.
(With inputs from Agencies)