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North Korea

North Korea blames United States for high tensions as rare UN talks conclude

Jeffrey Feltman concluded a five-day visit to Pyongyang aimed at defusing the nuclear crisis, just a week after the reclusive nation test-fired a new ballistic missile

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 3:22pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 December, 2017, 9:57pm

North Korea blamed US “nuclear blackmail” for soaring tensions over its weapons programme in rare meetings with a senior UN official, but agreed to regular communication with the organisation, state media said on Saturday.

Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Beijing on Saturday after concluding a five-day visit to Pyongyang aimed at defusing the crisis, just a week after North Korea said it test-fired a new ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.

His trip – the first by a UN diplomat of his rank since 2010 – saw him meet Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and vice-foreign minister Pak Myong-kuk, the North’s state news agency KCNA said.

“At these meetings, our side said the US policy of hostility toward the DPRK [North Korea] and its nuclear blackmail are to blame for the current tense situation on the Korean peninsula,” the report said.

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It added that the North had agreed with the UN “to regularise communications through visits at various levels”.

The report did not mention any meetings with leader Kim Jong-un, who has ramped up his impoverished nation’s missile and nuclear programme in recent years to achieve Pyongyang’s stated goal of developing a warhead capable of hitting the US mainland.

North Korea’s increasingly powerful missile and nuclear tests this year have rattled Washington and its regional allies South Korea and Japan, and prompted the United Nations Security Council to pass two sets of sanctions blocking about 90 per cent of that nation’s reported exports, including coal and seafood, as well as imports of some oil products.

KCNA said Feltman acknowledged the negative effect of sanctions on humanitarian aid to North Korea, and showed an intention to strive for cooperation in keeping with the humanitarian mission.

Feltman, the UN’s under secretary general for political affairs, visited the country just after the United States and South Korea launched their biggest ever joint air exercise.

Pyongyang reiterated its view that these manoeuvres were a provocation on Saturday, accusing the drills of “revealing its intention to mount a surprise nuclear pre-emptive strike against the DPRK”, using the acronym for the country’s official name.

Early on Saturday Feltman flew to Beijing, a key transit point with the North. China, which is Pyongyang’s sole major diplomatic and military ally, has called on the United States to freeze military drills and North Korea to halt weapons tests to calm tensions.

Speaking at an academic forum, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the situation on the Korean peninsula had entered a vicious circle of shows of strength and confrontation, and the outlook was not optimistic, China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“But at the same time it can be seen that hopes for peace have yet to extinguished. The prospects for negotiations still exist, and the option of resorting to force cannot be accepted,” Wang was quoted as saying.

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Feltman left the city’s airport without revealing details of his visit to reporters.

“I have to brief the secretary general first,” was all he said. But according to diplomatic sources, he is scheduled to brief the UN Security Council on Tuesday afternoon in a possibly closed-door meeting.

North Korea asked the United Nations in September to send a senior official for a “policy dialogue”.

Separately in Japan, police in Hokkaido, the northernmost of country’s main islands, said they had arrested three of the crew members of a North Korean fishing boat on suspicion of plundering a remote fishing hut.

On Friday the crew cut ropes tethering their boat to a Japanese coastguard vessel near Hakodate port and tried to flee, but the vessel was recaptured later that day.

The boat with 10 crew members had been impounded on November 30, two days after being spotted washed ashore on an uninhabited island off the town of Matsumae. The Hokkaido police have been questioning the crew.

The three were arrested on suspicion of stealing a power generator, which was found on their boat, police sources said.

The Immigration Bureau has taken custody of six other members while one has been hospitalised after complaining of ill health.

The police believe the ship’s crew also caused damage to and stole other property, such as electronic appliances, from the fishing hut on the island. Another power generator and a boiler were found destroyed.

Total damage is estimated at US$70,500, according to the fishery cooperative in Matsumae which owns the hut.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Kyodo, Bloomberg and Reuters