Beijing (AFP) – A senior United Nations envoy arrived at Beijing’s airport on Tuesday on his way to North Korea for a rare visit aimed at defusing soaring tensions over Pyongyang’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
The unusual trip by Jeffrey Feltman, which runs to Friday, comes less than a week after North Korea said it test-fired a new ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States.
AFP journalists saw Feltman arrive in a UN-flagged car at the Chinese capital’s international airport in the morning. North Korea’s Air Koryo airline has a 0455 GMT flight to Pyongyang on Tuesday.
His trip comes a day after the United States and South Korea launched their biggest-ever joint air exercise — manoeuvres slammed by Pyongyang as an “all-out provocation”.
The five-day Vigilant Ace drill involves 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters, and tens of thousands of troops, Seoul’s air force said.
Feltman arrived in China on Monday as Beijing is one of the few transit points to North Korea in the world.
China is Pyongyang’s sole major diplomatic and military ally, and its main trade partner.
Once in the North, Feltman will discuss “issues of mutual interest and concern” with officials, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, adding he was unable to say whether Feltman will meet with the reclusive state’s leader Kim Jong-Un.
It will be Feltman’s first visit to North Korea since he took office five years ago, and the first by a UN under-secretary-general in more than seven years.
The UN envoy is also planning to see foreign diplomats and UN workers in the North on humanitarian missions, Dujarric said.
– ‘Vigilant Ace’ –
The UN Security Council has hit the isolated and impoverished North with a package of sanctions over its increasingly powerful missile and nuclear tests, which have rattled Washington and its regional allies South Korea and Japan.
Pyongyang ramped up already high tensions on the Korean Peninsula five days ago when it announced it had successfully test-fired a new ICBM, which it says brings the whole of the continental United States within range.
Analysts say it is unclear whether the missile survived re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere or could successfully deliver a warhead to its target — key technological hurdles for Pyongyang.
A Cathay Pacific crew spotted what was “suspected to be the re-entry” of the missile as they flew from San Francisco to Hong Kong, the airline said.
In a separate message to staff, Cathay general manager…