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UN Official To Visit North Korea Next Month

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- A senior UN official will visit North Korea next month as a special envoy of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations announced today.

In a statement the world body said that Lynn Pascoe, undersecretary-general for political affairs, would visit the reclusive communist state February 9-12 to discuss "all issues of mutual interest and concern in a comprehensive manner."

Pascoe will also visit China, Japan, and South Korea, the UN said.

North Korea was hit with fresh UN sanctions last year to punish it for a nuclear test in May 2009, its second atomic detonation. The expanded measures are aimed at cutting off its arms sales, a vital export estimated to earn the destitute state more than $1 billion a year.

North Korea's biggest arm sales come from ballistic missiles, with Iran and other Middle Eastern states as customers, according to U.S. government officials.

The UN sanctions and the cutoff of handouts from South Korea have dealt a blow to the North, which has an estimated GDP of $17 billion, and could force it back into nuclear disarmament talks in the hopes of winning aid.