Is Ban Ki-moon going to North Korea?

While the United Nations has refused to confirm Ban Ki-moon's travel plans to North Korea, it may signal an opening in the long-standing rift. 

Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon waves as he arrives in Geneva for a bilateral meeting on the world's humanitarian crisis. A South Korean news agency reports Ban plans to visit North Korea soon.

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, may soon meet with North Korea’s isolationist leader Kim Jong-un, an undisclosed UN source first told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency

The move would be a turn of events from earlier this year, when the UN’s elected leader was set to visit a North Korean town along the contentious border with South Korea before Mr. Kim abruptly canceled.

The meeting, divulged last week, could be a significant development in a relationship that was already fractured and has spiraled further downward since Kim Jong-un took control of the Asian nation from his late father.

North Korea is largely cut off from most of the world as it increased incendiary threats and military drills and ended talks over the country’s nuclear capabilities.

So far, there is no definitive confirmation that the meeting will take place. Ban’s spokesperson told CNN that his office is aware of the South Korean report, but would neither confirm nor deny it.

“Will let you know if that changes,” said Eri Kaneko, the spokesperson. “The secretary-general has always said that he is ready to play any role in order to help enhance dialogue, stability and peace on the Korean peninsula.”

South Korea, Ban’s native country, would be a likely stop if he were to visit North Korea. But South Korea’s Unification Minister also would not corroborate the UN source’s report and North Korea has so far remained silent on a potential meeting.   

"It is impossible that the UN Secretary-General will not meet the leader of North Korea, a UN-member state, as he visits the country," the source told Yonhap. 

Ban, who is South Korean, may have a stronger interest in bridging the half-century long fissured relationship. 

The secretary-general served as the country’s foreign minister before catapulting to his current role with the UN. He is also rumored to be considering a run at the South Korean presidency, a claim Ban denies.

Ban's five-year term as the head of the UN is set to end in 2016, which may also be a consideration for the timing of his visit.

Still, whatever the political motivations, many are pointing to the significance of a meeting with Kim.

If the meeting happens, it would mark only the third time a UN leader has traveled to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. Two others, Kurt Waldheim in 1979 and Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1993, have made the trip, according to CNN.

But there is no telling where a prospective discussion would lead. International sanctions have been in place for several years over North Korea’s human rights violations, its nuclear program, a reported stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and ongoing missile tests which are viewed as threatening to surrounding countries, according to a UN Security Council report.

“The key point of discussion will have to be the UN sanctions on the North’s weapons of mass destructions program,” Yoo Ho-yeol, a North Korean expert from Korea University, said to Reuters. “The message by the north may be that it is willing to be flexible on the issue.” 

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