UN chief hopes for agreement to visit North Korea soon

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday he's in discussions with North Korean officials about visiting the country and hopes they'll be able to agree on a date soon.

The U.N. chief reiterated at a news conference Wednesday that he is ready to use his position as secretary-general to do "whatever it may take for peace and stability and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula."

He was responding to a question about reports that he was going to visit Pyongyang last month but suddenly the trip was put on hold.

"It's still under discussion with the authorities of the DPRK," Ban said, using the initials of the country's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "I sincerely hope that we'll be able to find a mutually convenient date as soon as possible."

Ri Hung Sik, an ambassador-at-large in the Foreign Ministry, told reporters last month that he knew nothing about a reported visit, but said "it is very natural, it is ordinary for the U.N. secretary-general to visit its member states."

If the U.N. chief does come, Ri said, he should help improve relations between the two Koreas and between the DPRK and the United Nations.

Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, noted some encouraging developments between the two Koreas including an agreement on reunions for separated families.

He also noted the lack of any breakthroughs at high-level talks between North and South Korea earlier this month.

"But we should not be frustrated," the secretary-general said. "I sincerely hope that the parties will continue to engage in talks so that they can first of all expand political space through dialogue and exchanges and cooperation so that they can first of all build reconciliation between the two parties."

In May, Pyongyang 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 at that time.

The last U.N. secretary-general to visit was Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who traveled to the country in 1993.

The reclusive northeast Asian nation has been ruled by a single family since the creation of the Communist-aligned DPRK when Korea was partitioned in 1945 at the end of World War II.

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