New York (CNN)UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters Friday he is pleased that relations have improved between North and South Korea, but the key challenge continues to be achieving the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
UN chief welcomes Korea dialogue, but says political settlement needed
Guterres said he was encouraged by the re-establishment of a military hotline between the two nations but said it is "absolutely essential that serious discussions take place between key actors in the process" to rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons.
Guterres received a letter from the North Korean foreign minister this week asking for recognition of the "positive changes" between the two nations. The letter said the Winter Olympics in South Korea are a "dramatic turning point" for peace, stability and national reconciliation on the Korean peninsula where a "touch-and-go war danger" prevails.
The letter blasted the US for military exercises that North Korea says could be the primary reason reconciliation efforts would fail. It also said the US should not think that sanctions pressure caused the uptick in relations between the two Koreas.
Guterres flies to South Korea next week to attend the Olympics.
His comments came the same day President Donald Trump met in the White House with a group of North Korean defectors who described how they escaped the hermit kingdom. He heard from six defectors, including the author of the "The Girl with Seven Names," Hyeonseo Lee, who fled to China when she was 17. She told the President "escaping North Korea is not like escaping another country, it's like escaping another universe."
The President said the defectors' stories were "amazing" and "tough stuff". Trump added that other defectors did not want to appear in front of cameras and were in another room, scared for their lives. He blamed past administrations for not being tougher on North Korea and said "we'll get through the Olympics and maybe something good will come out of the Olympics."
The White House also said Friday that Trump spoke with Japan's prime minister by phone, thanking him for Japan's efforts to maintain international pressure on Pyongyang. The White House readout of the call said the President cited Japan's efforts to "clamp down" on North Korea's attempts to evade international sanctions in the waters around the Korean peninsula.