Feltman is visiting as the US and South Korea conduct military exercises
North Korea test-fired a long-range missile last week
A senior United Nations official arrived in North Korea Tuesday for the first visit of its kind in six years, as US and South Korean military drills inflame tensions in the region.
Jeffrey Feltman, the UN’s undersecretary-general for Political Affairs, will meet with officials and discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern,” the UN announced.
The visit comes just days after North Korea tested an advanced, long-range ballistic missile.
The last senior UN official to visit North Korea was Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos in October 2011, according to the UN. The last time an undersecretary-general for Political Affairs visited the country was in February 2010.
A former American diplomat, Feltman is now a key adviser to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on global peace and security issues. He spent nearly 30 years at the US State Department prior to joining the UN in 2012.
The visit is a response to a “long standing invitation” from Pyongyang authorities for policy dialogue with the UN, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a press conference Monday. Meetings have been confirmed with the country’s foreign minister, the vice minister and diplomatic colleagues, Dujarric said.
Feltman is also expected to visit the organization’s project sites and meet with members of the diplomatic corps. Six UN agencies are represented in North Korea, staffed by a team of about 50 people from across the globe, according to a UN news release.
South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk said Seoul has been in close contact with the United Nations and hopes Feltman will be able to relay the “international community’s united will that North Korea’s provocation and threat must end.”
Missile tests and military drills
Feltman’s trip coincides with annual Vigilante 18 military drill held by the US and South Korea, which the US Air Force says is designed to boost the “combat effectiveness” of the alliance.
A senior South Korean Air Force official told CNN on Monday that the war games will include attacks against a mock North Korean missile launch site with mock North Korean radars.
Some 230 US and South Korean aircraft and 12,000 service members will participate in the drill, including advanced stealth fighters and bombers. They’ll also include F-22s and F-35s in the largest concentration of fifth-generation fighter jets ever in South Korea.
Experts say the concentration of stealthy F-22s and F-35s near North Korea worries Pyongyang because North Korea’s radars can’t detect them.
The country’s state media called the drills “joint air war exercises targeting the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea).”
“Owing to the US imperialist warmongers’ extremely reckless war hysteria, a grave situation is prevailing in the Korean peninsula that a nuclear war may break out any moment,” the piece in state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) read.
The drills come shortly after North Korea carried out its first ballistic missile test since September.
Pyongyang test-fired a Hwasong-15 missile Wednesday, which is believed to be its most dangerous and technologically advanced long-range ballistic missile.
It demonstrated a range of around 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles), which puts most of the planet in range. North Korean state media purports it can carry a “super-large heavy warhead.”
CNN’s Karen Smith and Brad Lendon contributed to this report.