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UN chief says he will try to visit North Korea at the earliest possible date to promote peace


UNITED NATIONS — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he will try to visit North Korea "at the earliest possible date" in an effort to promote peace on the Korean peninsula.

Ban said the political situation and relations between South Korea and North Korea "had not been conducive" for a visit. But he said North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Su Yong recently visited U.N. headquarters twice, and that they discussed the role of the secretary-general in promoting peace and reconciliation and in reducing tensions.

Since then, Ban said, "there has been a bit of a positive signal" from North Korea "and we are at the moment coordinating when would be the best time to visit ... but so far nothing has been decided."

The U.N. on Tuesday released the transcript of Ban's remarks late Monday at South Korea's U.N. Mission after he signed the condolence book for the country's former president Kim Yong-Sam.

Six months ago, North Korea at the last minute canceled an invitation for Ban to visit an inter-Korean factory park in the North Korean city of Kaesong. Ban has said North Korea gave no reason for the cancellation. He had not planned to visit Pyongyang, the capital, at that time.

The reclusive northeast Asian nation has been ruled by a single family since the creation of the Communist-aligned Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK — as the North is officially known — when Korea was partitioned in 1945 at the end of World War II.

There have been high tensions between the rival Koreas, including threats of war by the North and a military standoff in August. North Korea is believed to have a handful of nuclear bombs and to be pursuing nuclear-armed missiles that could hit the U.S. mainland.

But there have also been some high points including last month's reunion of families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War and the announcement of working-level talks between the rivals scheduled for Thursday.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported earlier this month that Ban would visit North Korea last week.

North Korean Ambassador-at-Large Ri Hung Sik told reporters on Nov. 17 that he knew nothing about a visit, but that if Ban comes "it should be of help and assistance to improve the situation on the Korean peninsula, to improve the bilateral relations between the U.N. and the DPRK." He said relations with the U.N. are "not good" because every year the General Assembly and its human rights bodies adopt "anti-DPRK human rights resolutions."

The secretary-general stressed Monday that "there are many sensitive issues at play" in arranging a visit to the DPRK, "but I will say that we will make the effort to do so at the earliest possible date."

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