What's In Blue

Posted Mon 11 Dec 2017

Briefing on Under-Secretary-General Feltman’s Visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Tomorrow (12 December), the Security Council will be briefed in consultations by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman on his visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) from 5 to 8 December. It was the first visit by a senior Secretariat official since 2011. While in Pyongyang, Feltman met with Minister for Foreign Affairs Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Pak Myong Guk. He also met with the UN country team and diplomatic corps and visited UN project sites (for example, a children’s foodstuffs factory and a tuberculosis prevention institute).

A UN statement issued at the end of the visit said that Feltman had exchanged views on the Korean Peninsula with Ri and Pak, and that there was agreement that the current situation was the most tense and dangerous peace and security issue today. It seems that Feltman stressed the need for implementation of all relevant Council resolutions and said that there can only be a diplomatic solution to the situation achieved through a process of dialogue. He emphasised that time was of the essence and noted that there was an urgent need to prevent miscalculations and open the channels of communication to reduce the risks of conflict.

Feltman’s visit comes in the wake of the DPRK’s latest missile test. It launched a new type of inter-continental ballistic missile on 29 November, its first test in about two months, following five missile tests between July and mid-September. It seems that the missile was a Hwasong-15, which is capable of striking the US. Following the launch, the Council held a public briefing during which Council members condemned the missile test and demanded that the DPRK abide by UN resolutions. A number of Council members stressed the need for full implementation of the current sanctions. The US called for all countries to sever diplomatic relations with the DPRK; to limit military, scientific, technical, or commercial cooperation; and to cut off trade with the regime. China, while condemning the test, reiterated its long-held “freeze-for-freeze” position, by which the DPRK would halt further nuclear and missile development in exchange for a freeze on joint US-Republic of Korea (ROK) military exercises.

The continuing ballistic missile tests by the DPRK, in spite of the imposition of stronger sanctions this year, have increased the interest of some members for a substantive discussion about possible diplomatic options. The timing of Feltman’s visit and tomorrow’s briefing may be seen as an opportune moment for members to discuss the prospects of developing a diplomatic channel with the DPRK. During Feltman’s visit, DPRK state media reported that the government had agreed to “regularize” communications with the UN through visits at various levels. Members that have been advocating combining the pressure of sanctions with the possibility of dialogue may be hopeful that Feltman’s visit may open up the possibility of cooperation with the UN and of establishing channels of communication with the DPRK that go beyond the quiet back-channel approaches that have been conducted so far.