U.N. secretary general to discuss North Korea, peacekeeping in historic Pentagon visit

Ban Ki-moon will become the first sitting United Nations secretary general to visit the Pentagon when he meets with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey on Thursday to discuss the North Korean crisis.

The United Nations requested the unprecedented meeting roughly two weeks ago amid growing international tensions stemming from North Korea's threats of nuclear war, a senior defense official told the E-Ring. Pentagon officials behind the scenes rushed to accommodate the request, and Ban's visit was not announced until late Wednesday afternoon.

The foremost topic of the meeting will be "how the U.S. can work with the U.N. to make it clear to the North Korean regime that they should abandon their nuclear pursuits," the official said.

Also on the agenda are U.N. peacekeeping operations, the iconic blue helmet missions that were a staple of the 1990s but that the Pentagon has largely avoided during the past decade as millions of U.S. troops were deployed to fight the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

Participants in the room will be Hagel, Dempsey, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Mark Lippert, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Mike Sheehan, and James Swartout, who is special advisor to Pentagon press secretary George Little and a spokesman for Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter. On the U.N. side with Ban will sit Harve Ladsous, under secretary-general for the department of peacekeeping operations; Ameerah Haq, under secretary-general for field support; Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for policy coordination and strategic planning; and Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, assistant secretary-general for political affairs.

According to the defense official, the group plans to discuss the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2094, which imposed additional sanctions against North Korea in March.

But the fact there will be a discussion about U.N. peacekeeping at the Pentagon could touch sensitive nerve in Washington, which has historically shown a distaste for putting U.S. troops in blue helmets. Currently, there are 14 active U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world and, according to the Pentagon, U.S. troops are assisting with six: those in Haiti, Congo, Kenya, Liberia, South Sudan, and Israel.

That may sound like a bigger U.S. commitment than it really is. The total number of U.S. troops participating in U.N. peacekeeping missions as of March: 28. The delegation is expected to discuss how the U.S. might become more involved, the official said.

One item not explicitly listed on the agenda but a strong candidate for discussion: nuclear disarmament. Ban, in January, delivered a stinging rebuke of the world's major military powers for not doing more to reduce their nuclear arsenals. Hagel shares Ban's passion for the issue and was a strong advocate for reducing nuclear weapons after quitting the Senate in 2008, working with the disarmament group Global Zero. Hagel's anti-nuke record was one reason that several conservative senators cited for voting against his confirmation, but as secretary Hagel has promised to maintain the U.S. nuclear deterrent capability.

Ban is scheduled to arrive at the Pentagon at 1:45 pm.

Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images