UN says Ban will not visit N. Korea next week

November 18, 2015
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

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

NEW YORK (Yonhap) — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has no plan to visit North Korea next week, his office said Wednesday amid speculation that the two sides may be in a last-minute scramble to fix a schedule.

“The Secretary-General will not be traveling to the DPRK next week,” a U.N. spokesperson said in a statement, referring to North Korea by the acronym for its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Ban will be in “New York most of next week and then travel to Malta for the Commonwealth Summit,” the statement added.

It was refuting a Xinhua news agency report dispatched from the North Korean capital. Citing information from the North’s official news agency KCNA, China’s state-run news outlet said Ban will arrive in the capital city next Monday and stay there for around four days.

More specifically, it said, Ban will travel by plane to arrive at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang.

Yonhap News Agency earlier learned that Ban, formerly South Korea’s foreign minister, is planning to travel soon to Pyongyang.

The North’s media have not formally commented on that.

But the U.N. kept the door open for Ban’s visit there.

“The secretary-general has repeatedly said that he is willing to play any constructive role, including traveling to the DPRK, in an effort to work for peace, stability and dialogue on the Korean Peninsula,” said the statement.

Ban is apparently seeking to visit the North before his term ends next year. But the timing and conditions are a highly sensitive issue.

The U.N. chief may be hoping to secure an assurance that he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

He may also feel burdened at the prospect of a trip to the nuclear-armed communist nation at a time when the world is in shock over the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

Even if he makes a historic visit to Pyongyang, he would not want to return empty handed.

Critics are already raising concerns that the North will try to use him for political purposes only.

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.