Late last week the UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman visited Pyongyang, making him the first high level UN official to visit North Korea in over five years. (Feltman, incidentally, is also an American and was a former US Assistant Secretary of State in the Obama administration.)
Speaking to reporters following closed door consultations with the Security Council Feltman did not claim any breakthroughs, but says he believes he left “the door ajar” for further talks. From Michelle Nichols of Reuters:
Feltman said he asked North Korea to signal that it was prepared to consider engagement like possible “talks about talks” and to open “technical channels of communication, such as the military-to-military hotline, to reduce risks, to signal intentions, to prevent misunderstandings and manage any crisis.”
“They listened seriously to our arguments … They did not offer any type of commitment to us at that point,” said Feltman. “They agreed it was important to prevent war … How we do that was the topic of 15-plus hours of discussions.”
Meanwhile, it seems that the US Secretary of State and the UN might be on the same page. In public remarks yesterday Rex Tillerson agreed to talks without pre-conditions. “Let’s just talk” he said. “We can talk about the weather if you want. We can talk about whether it’s going to be a square table or a round table. Then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards.”
This was an about-face for Tillerson, who in previous public statements had attached pre-conditions to entering into negotiations with North Korea. At the United Nations in April, Tillerson said, “North Korea must take concrete steps to reduce the threat that its illegal weapons programs pose to the United States and our allies before we can consider talks.” Apparently that is no longer American policy.
In September, the Security Council expanded its already harsh sanctions regime on North Korea following yet another nuclear test. North Korea is now under the strongest sanctions regime ever imposed by the Security Council. And, for the first time since the Trump administration took office, it appears there is a sliver of an opening for talks between the US and North Korea.
This has been an interesting 24 hours of diplomacy on North Korea, apparently kicked off by a high ranking UN official’s visit to Pyongyang.