N. Korea seen as seeking to break out of isolation with Ban’s visit

November 16, 2015
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (AP Photo)

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (AP Photo)

NEW YORK, Nov. 15 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s decision to accept a visit by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is seen as part of efforts by Pyongyang to break out of isolation amid increasing international pressure on the communist regime.

A high-level U.N. source told Yonhap News Agency that Ban plans to visit Pyongyang later this week. It will be Ban’s first visit to the North in his capacity as U.N. chief. He will also be the third U.N. secretary-general to visit North Korea after Kurt Waldheim in 1979 and Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, has played the role of a peace broker since taking office in 2007, making visits to a number of conflict and tension zones around the world, but North Korea has so far remained off limits to him.

In May this year, Ban had planned to visit the North Korean border city of Kaesong, where South Korea runs an industrial park, but the trip was called off at the last minute as Pyongyang abruptly withdrew its invitation for no clear reason.

Should this week’s trip be realized, Ban is expected to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, just as his two predecessors Waldheim and Boutros-Ghali met with North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il-sung during their visits to Pyongyang.

Since taking the helm of the U.N., Ban has expressed his desire many times to visit North Korea, saying he is prepared to do everything possible to promote inter-Korean reconciliation and a resolution of the North Korean nuclear standoff.

After the May trip fell through, Ban expressed regret about the North’s decision to withdraw his invitation. But since then, he has also repeatedly expressed his desire to visit the North through diplomatic channels, sources said.

North Korea’s about-face is believed to be part of an attempt to break away from its isolation.

Ban’s visit comes just weeks after a new U.N. General Assembly resolution has been proposed, which calls again for the U.N. Security Council to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights violations.

Last year, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution that calls for North Korea’s referral to the ICC for the first time, even though the North worked hard unsuccessfully to remove the ICC referral part from the resolution.

The United States has also increased pressure on Pyongyang. On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department slapped sanctions on North Korea’s ambassador to Myanmar for involvement in weapons proliferation. It was the first time a sitting North Korean ambassador has been sanctioned.

Pyongyang’s relations with China have also remained soured. Chinese President Xi Jinping has neither visited North Korea nor met with the North’s leader while he paid a visit to Seoul and held a series of summit meetings with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.

A source at the U.N. said that Ban won’t be coming back from the trip empty-handed, adding that there is a high possibility that the trip could produce an important opportunity for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and other Korean Peninsula matters.