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UN Chief: War on Korean Peninsula Avoidable, But Peace Not Guaranteed

Kwon Hyok Bong, director of the Arts and Performance Bureau in North Korea's Culture Ministry, shakes hands with Lee Woo-sung, head of the South Korean delegation, after their meeting at Tongilgak, the North's building in the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea, Jan. 15, 2018.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday there is a "window of opportunity" to avoid war on the Korean Peninsula, and he urged the parties to seize it.

"I believe war is avoidable," Guterres said in response to a question at a news conference. "What I'm worried is, that I'm not yet sure that peace is guaranteed," he added.

"We know the limitations of what we can do," Guterres admitted. "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."

FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech in Tokyo, Dec. 14, 2017.
FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivers a speech in Tokyo, Dec. 14, 2017.

Last month, Guterres sent his political chief, former American diplomat Jeffrey Feltman, to Pyongyang for the first in-depth exchange of political views between North Korea and the United Nations in eight years.

South Korea's U.N. ambassador Cho Tae-yul welcomed the intervention during the secretary-general's Tuesday briefing, saying the visit helped pave the way for the current inter-Korean talks. Those discussions are focused on the Winter Olympics to be held next month in the South Korean city of Pyeongchang. North Korea has decided to participate.

"I hope that Pyeongchang will provide a window of opportunity to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula, improve inter-Korean relations and eventually lead to denuclearization," South Korean envoy Cho said. "It is yet premature to expect that this will be the case, but we must keep this moment alive and keep patient and persistent."

Cho said Seoul would work closely with U.N. member states, especially those on the Security Council, to achieve these goals, and he urged the international community to continue to speak in a unified voice regarding North Korea.

The U.N. chief announced Tuesday that he would attend the Pyeongchang opening ceremony.