The U.N. political affairs chief arrived Tuesday in North Korea, the highest-level official of the world body to visit in more than six years, as tensions continue to run high in the region following Pyongyang's third intercontinental ballistic missile test last week.
Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman will meet with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and other officials, according to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric, with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs the topic most likely to be discussed.
Feltman will be in North Korea through Friday to discuss "issues of mutual interest and concern," the spokesman said in New York earlier. "The visit is in response to a long-standing invitation from the authorities in Pyongyang for policy dialogue with the U.N."
He is the first high-ranking U.N. official to travel to North Korea since October 2011, when Valerie Amos, then undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs, visited Pyongyang and held talks with the country's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam.
Feltman's predecessor, Lynn Pascoe, visited North Korea in February 2010 as a special envoy of then-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.
A spokesman for South Korea's Foreign Ministry voiced hope on Tuesday that Feltman's visit will help push North Korea to halt its provocative behavior and move down the path of denuclearization.
"Through Feltman's visit to North Korea, (we) hope North Korea comes to understand the international community's unified stance that its provocation and threats should come to an end," spokesman Noh Kyu Duk told reporters in Seoul.
China, which has been pushing for the restart of dialogue to ease the current situation, also welcomed Feltman's trip.
"China is pleased to see that the United Nations is playing a constructive role in trying to properly settle the (Korean) peninsula nuclear issue," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a press briefing in Beijing.
On Monday, the U.N. political chief discussed "issues of common concern" with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong, according to Geng.
Feltman's arrival in Pyongyang was confirmed by Kyodo News. At the country's airport, a delegation led by him was received by a North Korean diplomat and U.N. officials.
Before departing from Beijing's international airport, he made no comment to the press as a U.N. car carrying him entered a VIP section.
North Korea invited Feltman for "policy dialogue" when Ri was in New York in September for the U.N. General Assembly and his visit was finalized last week, the spokesman told reporters.
During the visit, Feltman, a former senior official of the U.S. State Department, is also scheduled to confer with U.N. officials and diplomatic corps stationed in North Korea, the spokesman said.
U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has cited North Korea's nuclear development as one of the most pressing issues the world is facing.
Feltman has said he met North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations Ja Song Nam after Pyongyang test-fired a new type of ICBM last Wednesday.
North Korea has claimed the Hwasong-15 missile can be tipped with a "super-large heavy" warhead and is capable of striking anywhere in the United States.
After the launch, North Korea also said it "finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force."
Tensions have been running high especially since North Korea tested two ICBMs in July and conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September.
The U.N. Security Council imposed stricter sanctions on North Korea on Sept. 11, taking aim at its supply of oil and gas for the first time.
But North Korea has not shown any sign of curbing its desire to master the technology needed to produce a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting the mainland United States.
North Korea has also reacted sharply to what South Korea's has billed as the "largest-ever" aerial military drills with the United States, starting on Monday, involving more than 230 warplanes from both sides.
It described the drills as "a grave military provocation which will push the already acute situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of nuclear war."