SEOUL: North Korea blamed US “nuclear blackmail” for soaring tensions over its weapons programme following rare meetings with a senior UN official, but agreed to regular communication with the organisation, state media said on Saturday.
Jeffrey Feltman flew to Beijing on Saturday after wrapping up 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, and visit medical facilities supported by the UN, 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.
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 in order to achieve Pyongyang’s stated goal of developing a warhead capable of hitting the US mainland.
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 initials of the country’s official name.
The UN Security Council has hit the isolated and impoverished North with a package of sanctions over its increasingly powerful missile and nuclear tests, which have rattled Washington and its regional allies South Korea and Japan.
Feltman arrived in Beijing, a key transit point with the North, and left the airport without speaking to reporters. China, Pyongyang’s sole major diplomatic and military ally, has called on the United States to freeze military drills and on North Korea to halt weapons tests.
The Chinese foreign ministry on Saturday published a speech from four days ago by foreign minister Wang Yi in which he warned that the Korean Peninsula “remains deeply entrenched in a vicious cycle of demonstrations of strength and confrontation.”
“The outlook is not optimistic,” Beijing’s top diplomat added.
Pyongyang ramped up already high tensions on the Korean Peninsula at the end of November when it announced it had successfully test-fired a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it says brings the whole of the continental United States within range.
Analysts say it is unclear whether the missile survived re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere or could successfully deliver a warhead to its target — key technological hurdles for Pyongyang. — AFP