UN chief believes war over North Korea nukes is avoidable

January 16, 2018

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday he believes war over North Korea’s nuclear weapons is avoidable — but he’s worried and “not yet sure that peace is guaranteed.”

“There is a window of opportunity,” he told a news conference. “That window of opportunity will, in my opinion, hopefully, make the war avoidable, but it is important that we don’t miss the opportunities that windows can provide.”

Guterres’ comments follow the restoration of a military hotline and North Korea’s first formal talks with South Korea in about two years last week.

North Korea agreed to send a delegation to the Feb. 9-25 Winter Olympics in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang and hold military talks aimed at reducing frontline animosities. But Pyongyang has insisted its talks with South Korea won’t deal with its nuclear and missile programs, saying those weapons primarily target the United States.

Critics question how long the warmer mood can last without any serious discussion on the North’s nuclear disarmament.

Guterres also made clear that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the key issue.

“There are some signals of hope,” he said, and it’s extremely important to use them “to make sure that a serious process leading to the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula takes place.”

The secretary-general expressed concern that sometimes “we look at these symbols of goodwill and positive indications and we forget that the main problem is yet to be solved.”

So, there is a risk that people think, “Oh now things are solved,” he said.

“It’s very important that we have these conversations between the two Koreas. It’s very important that we have these Olympic games. But let’s not forget that the essential problem is yet to be solved — and let’s make sure that the international community commits strongly to that,” Guterres said.

He reiterated earlier Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly that “global anxieties about nuclear weapons are the highest since the Cold War.”

Guterres welcomed the increasingly tough sanctions resolutions adopted by the U.N. Security Council in response to North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear and ballistic missile tests and urged all countries to fully implement them.

The secretary-general said the council’s unity “paves the way for diplomatic engagement” and that’s why in early December he sent U.N. political chief Jeffrey Feltman to Pyongyang for the first in-depth exchange of views between the U.N. and Pyongyang in almost eight years.

He told reporters he was “very happy” that South Korea’s U.N. ambassador said Tuesday that Feltman’s visit “contributed to the restart of the dialogue between the two Koreas.”

Gutteres said the U.N. will remain “strongly engaged,” and he urged expanded diplomatic efforts to achieve peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“We know the limitations of what we can do but we are totally committed to contribute to the key actors to be able to engage in the kind of talks that can allow for the problem to be solved in line with the resolutions of the Security Council,” he said.

Update hourly