UN chief urges dialogue in talks with N. Korea ceremonial leader

North Korea's head of state Kim Yong Nam (R), who had a brief exchange with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres at a dinner, is seen here on his arrival in South Korea with Kim Yo Jong (C), North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sibling

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged North Korea's ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam to engage in dialogue on ending the nuclear crisis during a brief exchange in South Korea, a UN spokesman said Friday.

Kim and Guterres attended a dinner ahead of the opening of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.

"He did have a brief exchange with president Kim," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

Guterres reiterated "his expectation and hope that all parties will use dialogue to achieve the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," he added.

Kim is leading the North Korean delegation to the Olympics that also includes Kim Yo Jong, the younger powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The UN spokesman said Guterres did not meet with Kim's sister.

The exchange with Kim however was the highest-level meeting between the UN chief and North Korea.

Guterres has met with the foreign minister and Pyongyang's ambassador to the United Nations. Kim holds the title of president of the presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, making him technically the head of state.

The UN chief has been a strong supporter of the thaw in relations between Pyongyang and Seoul during the Olympics, which he maintains could provide the basis for a broader dialogue.

At an official lunch hosted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Guterres expressed his "total support" to Moon for establishing "a very important positive development in inter-Korean relations.

"We hope that these Olympic Games will open a window of opportunity to allow for a strong diplomatic engagement aiming at the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," said Guterres.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley has dismissed North Korea's decision to attend the Olympics as a "distraction," and Vice President Mike Pence skipped the dinner on Friday.

In December, Guterres dispatched UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman to Pyongyang for talks, but the envoy came back with no commitment from North Korea to hold negotiations on the nuclear standoff.

North Korea's race to build an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the United States with a nuclear warhead has raised fears of a devastating conflict.

At the United Nations in September, President Donald Trump vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it launches an attack on the United States.

Trump's administration has been adamant that North Korea must first freeze its military programs before talks can take place.