UN Secretary‑General António Guterres’ remarks to the Security Council meeting on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, in New York today:
Mr. President, allow me to first thank Japan, and thank you personally, for convening this meeting. I would also like to acknowledge and welcome the many ministers and other representatives around this table, as well as the participation of the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in this important meeting.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula is the most tense and dangerous peace and security issue in the world today. I am deeply concerned by the risk of military confrontation, including as a result of unintended escalation or miscalculation.
I know that the Under‑Secretary‑General for Political Affairs briefed the Security Council earlier this week on his recent visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I will not repeat what he said, but I want to note that it was the first in‑depth political exchange of views between the United Nations Secretariat and officials in Pyongyang in almost eight years.
His visit came at the end of a difficult period. In 2017, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted activities related to its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes at an alarming and accelerated pace. On 3 September, it [conducted] its sixth nuclear explosive test, involving what it claimed was a “two‑stage thermonuclear weapon”. This test caused a seismic event of magnitude 6.1.
Over the year, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea conducted 20 ballistic missile launches. This has included its first tests of two intercontinental‑range ballistic missiles, as well as tests of new medium- and intermediate‑range ballistic missiles. In September, two Hwasong‑12 intermediate‑range ballistic missiles overflew Japan.
No aviation or maritime safety notifications were given for any of these launches. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains unable to access the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to verify the status of its nuclear programme. The Agency monitors developments through satellite imagery. At the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Centre, it has observed signatures consistent with the operation of the plutonium production reactor and reported centrifuge enrichment facility. The Agency also continues to observe indications of ongoing mining, milling and concentration activities at the Pyongsan uranium mine and Pyongsan uranium concentration plant.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea remains the only country to continue to break the norm against nuclear testing. Its actions show blatant disregard for the will and resolutions of the Security Council, and undermines the international norm against nuclear testing and the nuclear non‑proliferation regime.
Security Council resolution 2375 (2017), adopted in September, includes the strongest sanctions ever imposed on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I reiterate my call on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea leadership to comply with the relevant Security Council resolutions and allow space for the resumption of dialogue on denuclearization and sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula.
While all concerned seek to avoid an accidental escalation leading to conflict, the risk is being multiplied by misplaced overconfidence, dangerous narratives and rhetoric, and the lack of communication channels. It is time to re‑establish and strengthen communication channels, including inter‑Korean and military to military channels. This is critical to lower the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding and reduce tensions in the region. Any military action would have devastating and unpredictable consequences.
The unity of the Security Council is an essential instrument to achieve the goal of denuclearization, and creates the space for diplomatic initiatives aimed at achieving it in a peaceful manner. The Security Council’s call in resolution 2375 (2017) is united: “to further work to reduce tensions so as to advance the prospects for a comprehensive settlement”, … expressing “its desire for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation”, … and “welcomes efforts by Council members as well as other States to facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue”.
The Secretariat and I are your partners in this effort. My good offices remain always available. I believe the United Nations Secretariat adds strategic value in three key areas. First, impartiality. Second, the voice and norms, values and principles for peaceful and diplomatic solutions, in line with international law. Third, offering channels of communication with all parties. The Organization is a key venue where all six parties are represented and can interact to narrow differences in understanding, and promote confidence‑building measures.
As Secretary‑General, I commit to protecting and strengthening these three areas. Security Council unity behind this effort is essential. I welcome the Council’s humanitarian and human rights concerns.
The Secretariat has consistently conveyed the importance of disassociating the peace and security situation from the humanitarian imperative. Seventy per cent of the population of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is categorized as food insecure, and 40 per cent are malnourished. The 2017 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s humanitarian needs and priorities document calls for $114 million to meet urgent requirements. This is only 30 per cent funded.
I ask all Member States, particularly those around this table, to carefully consider the humanitarian principles that underpin our work. The people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea need generosity and help.
Not long from now, athletes will gather in Pyeongchang for the Winter Olympics. I express my sincerest hope that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will take part. As the General Assembly has recognized, these Games can foster an atmosphere of peace, development, tolerance and understanding on the Korean Peninsula and beyond. We need to spread and deepen that spirit of hope and possibility. Diplomatic engagement is the only pathway to sustainable peace and denuclearization. We must do everything we can to reach that objective and avoid a level of danger that would be unpredictable in its trajectory and catastrophic in its consequences.