North Korea

‘Time is of the essence’: UN envoy warns North Korea miscalculation could trigger conflict after rare visit

Meanwhile, US reports tremors from nuclear test site which are likely to have been caused by recent test launch

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 3:54pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 December, 2017, 9:35pm

A senior UN envoy warned there was a grave risk of a miscalculation that could trigger conflict with North Korea as he urged Pyongyang to keep channels open after a rare visit to the reclusive state.

Jeffrey Feltman’s four-day trip to the North – the first by such a high-ranking UN diplomat since 2010 – kicked off less than a week after North Korea said it test-fired a new ballistic missile capable of reaching the US.

According to a UN statement, Feltman met North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice-Foreign Minister Pak Myong-kuk and they “agreed that the current situation was the most tense and dangerous peace and security issue in the world today”.

“Noting the urgent need to prevent miscalculations and open channels to reduce the risks of conflict, Mr Feltman underlined that the international community, alarmed by escalating tensions, is committed to the achievement of a peaceful solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.”

Feltman, the UN’s under secretary general for political affairs, added “there can only be a diplomatic solution to the situation, achieved through a process of sincere dialogue”.

“Time is of the essence.”

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Meanwhile, a US Geological Survey official said two minor tremors had been detected from near North Korea’s nuclear test site and were probably aftershocks from the country’s massive nuclear test in early September.

The aftershocks, of magnitude 2.9 and 2.4, were detected in the early hours of Saturday, said the USGS and Lassina Zerbo, executive secretary of the Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation. A tweet from Zerbo said analysts had confirmed that the activity was “tectonic” in origin.

The USGS official said the tremors had been in the vicinity of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where North Korea conducted its sixth and largest underground nuclear test on September 3.

“They’re probably relaxation events from the sixth nuclear test,” the official said. “When you have a large nuclear test, it moves the earth’s crust around the area, and it takes a while for it to fully subside. We’ve had a few of them since the sixth nuclear test.”

Pyongyang said the September test was of an H-bomb, and experts have estimated it was 10 times more powerful than the US atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

South Korea’s spy agency told South Korean lawmakers in October that North Korea might be readying two more tunnels at the site. North Korea hinted its next nuclear test could be above ground after US President Donald Trump warned in September that the United States would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened America.

With tensions rising, the United States, Japan and South Korea will hold two days of missile tracking drills starting on Monday, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force said.

This week’s exercises will be the sixth drills sharing information in tracking ballistic missiles among the three nations, the defence force said.

It did not say whether the controversial THAAD system would be involved. The installation of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in South Korea has angered China, which fears its powerful radar could look deep into China and threaten its own security.

Additional reporting by Reuters