SEOUL (Reuters) - U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit North Korea’s capital Pyongyang this week, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported on Monday, quoting a U.N. source, in what could be a rare diplomatic opening by the isolated state.
Ban, who is South Korean, had earlier this year made plans to visit the North, but Pyongyang retracted the approval for the trip at the last minute without explanation.
“It is impossible that the U.N Secretary-General will not meet the leader of North Korea, a U.N. member state, as he visits the country,” the source told Yonhap, adding that the trip would likely provide significant momentum to resolve issues on the Korean Peninsula.
The secretive North, officially named the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is under heavy U.N., EU and U.S. sanctions for its missile and nuclear tests.
South Korea’s foreign ministry could not immediately confirm the report. Yonhap did not have further details about the trip.
The U.N. spokesman’s office had no immediate comment.
In December last year, the U.N. General Assembly urged the Security Council to consider referring the North to the International Criminal Court after a U.N. inquiry detailed wide-ranging abuses in the country comparable to Nazi-era atrocities.
Two serving U.N. chiefs have visited the North previously. Kurt Waldheim visited the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in 1979 and again in 1981. Boutros Boutros-Ghali visited in 1993.
Ban served as South Korea’s foreign minister from 2004 to 2006, a period of intense multinational negotiations aimed at ending the North’s nuclear program. Those talks led to a 2005 deal that later fell apart.
Reporting by Jack Kim and Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Richard Pullin