Senior UN official in North Korea to meet top leaders

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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) - A senior United Nations official arrived in Pyongyang on Tuesday for a rare, four-day visit at the invitation of the North Korean government.

Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is scheduled to meet Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk, diplomats and U.N. staff during his stay. They are expected to discuss a wide range of issues.

Feltman, the highest-ranking American in the U.N. Secretariat, is the first person in that post to visit North Korea since February 2010.

Though Feltman previously worked for the State Department, he is not representing the U.S. government.

The most senior American to visit North Korea in an official capacity recently was James R. Clapper, who as director of national intelligence traveled to Pyongyang in late 2014 to secure the release of two American citizens. A delegation headed by State Department Special Representative Joseph Yun flew to Pyongyang to oversee the release of American college student Otto Warmbier in June this year.

Feltman's visit comes amid high tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries are holding a major air force exercise and just last week Pyongyang test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts say could hit Washington.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, meanwhile, have traded insults and engaged in escalating rhetoric in recent months.

Trump announced on Nov. 20 that the United States was returning North Korea to the list of state sponsors of terrorism and promised to intensify a campaign of "maximum pressure" and sanctions as part of a rolling effort to compel Kim's government to negotiate over its nuclear program.

The visit by Feltman follows the dispatch last month by China of its highest-level envoy to North Korea in two years. It wasn't clear what progress, if any, was made during that visit to ease a rift that has also been widening between Beijing and Pyongyang.

Six U.N. agencies, with approximately 50 international staff, are represented in North Korea.

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