N. Korea 'nuclear button' might be symbolic, but war risk is real: UN official
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WATCH: Jeffrey Feltman, a top U.N. official who visited North Korea last month, told ABC News he believes the risk of accidental war is real.

Though the "nuclear button" North Korea's leader said he has on his desk probably doesn't exist, his threatening posture toward the United States in his New Year's address was clear. A top U.N. official who visited the secretive country last month told ABC he believes the risk of accidental war is real.

"Obviously, I've never seen Kim Jong Un's desk, but my guess is that this is ... a rhetorical device," Jeffrey Feltman, the United Nations' under-secretary-general for political affairs, told ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff in an interview Tuesday. "He doesn't have that."

But Kim's point was apparent, Feltman, a former top State Department official, said. The leader threatened that all U.S. territory was within range of his country's nuclear weapons, the Associated Press reported.

UN under-secretary-general Jeffrey Feltman (3rd L) and North Korean Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Pak Myong Guk (3rd R) engage in talks in Pyongyang, Dec. 6, 2017.

"He wants the world, and particularly he wants the United States, to understand that he can hit the United States and that he can hurt the United States," Feltman said. "That point is clear, even if the button thing is a gimmick and clearly not true."

Last month, Feltman became the highest-ranking U.N. official to visit the North in the past six years when he engaged in talks over several days with the country's minister and vice minister for foreign affairs.

The Korean war started in 1950 and although the fighting stopped with the 1953 armistice, recent tensions on the Korean Peninsula are once again drawing attention to this part of the world.

... Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
“If North Korea were to dramatically implode, most analysts expect a wave of refugees headed toward China, South Korea or even Japan,” Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science at Pu... Photo Credit: Getty Images
The battle of Inchon was an amphibious invasion that was a decisive victory for the U.N. and American troops in the early months of the Korean War.

U.S. Marines in a naval landing craft ar... Photo Credit: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Gen. Douglas MacArthur was the commander of both the U.N. and U.S. forces -- known as the United Nations Command (UNC) -- and he accompanied U.S. troops on their invasion of Inchon harbor, keeping in close touc... Photo Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
North Korean troops were able to capture the city of Seoul within three days of their invasion and continued to push southward.

An elderly resident of Seoul walks through one of the streets... Photo Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
U.S. Marines recaptured Seoul within two weeks of landing at Inchon.

An American soldier engages North Korean soldiers as others duck for cover during street combat in the Korean War. Photo Credit: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The Department of Veterans Affairs put the U.S. Battle Deaths at 33,739 and “other deaths in theater” at 2,835. There are still 7,800 U.S. soldiers still unaccounted for according to the U.S. Defen... Photo Credit: Getty Images
After the end of WW II and the surrender of Japan, Kim Il Sung returned to Korea to establish a communist provisional government, becoming the Communist leader of North Korea in 1948. Kim, seen at right in the ... Photo Credit: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
The Korean Truce was signed on July 27, 1953. The armistice was designed to “insure a complete cessation of hostilities and of all acts of armed force in Korea until a final peaceful settlement is achieve... Photo Credit: Corbis via Getty Images
China has long played a vital role as one of North Korea’s closest allies. The Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty pledging friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance was sig... Photo Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
On Oct. 24, 1952, while running for president, Dwight D. Eisenhower pledged in a campaign speech to personally visit Korea. “There is a Korean War, and we are fighting it for the simplest of reasons; beca... Photo Credit: The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Throughout the years, massive, colorful parades have become the stage for the North Korean military to show off its military might. Intelligence and security analysts study the videos and photographs for insigh... Photo Credit: AP Photo
Officers and crew of the United States Navy ship USS Pueblo are led away after being captured by North Korean forces on Jan. 23, 1968. The Navy intelligence ship and 82 surviving sailors were taken to the port... Photo Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
The USS Pueblo, shown here in August 2007, is docked along the Taedong River in Pyongyang, the nation's capital, and has been turned into a museum and tourist attraction. The ship is still considered and listed... Photo Credit: MCT via Getty Images
Two American officers, Arthur Bonifas and Mark Barrett, were killed when North Korean soldiers attacked members of the UNC (United Nations Command) with axes near checkpoint No. 3 in the JSA of the Korean DMZ, ... Photo Credit: Popperfoto/Getty Images
One of the few places along the DMZ in which military officers from both sides can sit across a table, look each other in the eye and speak to each other, is the Joint Security Area (JSA) in Panmunjom near the ... Photo Credit: Gerhard Joren/LightRocket/Getty Images
“The Great Leader,” Kim Il Sung, left, with his son, Kim Jong Il, inspects a soccer ground in Pyongyang in 1992. Kim Jong Il, who became known as “The Dear Leader,” succeeded his father ... Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Conflicts between the two countries are not just on land as the seas off of the Korean coast have also been the scene of disputes between the countries Naval forces. Forty-six South Korean sailors lost their l... Photo Credit: Hong Jin-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images
By the late 1980s, U.S. analysts believed North Korea was trying to build a nuclear bomb. Former President Jimmy Carter visited North Korea in 1994 and met with Kim Il Sung, helping to defuse tensions and pavin... Photo Credit: UIG/Getty Images
General Raymond Davis, President Bill Clinton, and South Korean President Kim Young Sam stand alongside the Korean War Veterans Memorial during the 1995 dedication ceremony in Washington, D.C. The memorial comm... Photo Credit: Wally McNamee/Corbis via Getty Images
Famine and food shortages in North Korea have been common throughout the country’s history due to weather, lack of good farmland and the government’s economic policies.

Dock work... Photo Credit: Peter Smerdon/AFP/Getty Images
More than 70 percent of the population of North Korea – or 25.16 million people – suffer from food insecurity and a quarter of children under the age of 5 suffer stunted growth due to malnourishment... Photo Credit: Gerald Bourke/World Food Program/Getty Images
Promising "to broaden understanding between North and South Korea," South Korean President Kim Dae Jung traveled to Pyongyang in June of 2000 and met with North Korean President Kim Jong Il. It was th... Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
In an attempt to end North Korea's isolation and remove the threat of war in one of the world's most volatile regions, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright flew to Pyongyang to meet with the North Korean leade... Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Officials of the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) place the first concrete in the foundation for a nuclear reactor in the Light Water Reactor project, created under the so-called Agreed F... Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. made up the Six Party Talks established in 2003 to de-nuclearize the North Korean weapons program. The talks ended in 2009 after North Korea attempted... Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
In an unprecedented cultural exchange between the United States and North Korea, a country President George W. Bush had labeled as part of the "Axis of Evil" six years earlier, members of the North Ko... Photo Credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
North Korea's Workers' Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, released a photograph that showed Kim Jong-un, left, posing with his father, then-leader Kim Jong-il, in an unspecified location. The photograph is believe... Photo Credit: EPA
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to North Korea in 2009 as a private citizen and within 20 hours won the release of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two jailed American journalists. Clinton dine... Photo Credit: Korean Central News Agency/REUTERS
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, left, and his son and future leader, Kim Jong Un, review a military parade marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers Party of Korea in Pyongyang, Oct. 1... Photo Credit: Kyodo News via Getty Images
Because of ongoing threats from North Korea, South Koreans participate in many civil defense drills throughout the year. Elementary school students wear gas masks during one of those drills at a shelter in Seou... Photo Credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong Il died of a heart attack on Dec. 17, 2011, while traveling on a train outside of Pyongyang. He had ruled North Korea for 17 years after taking the mantle of leadership from his father, Kim Il Sung, th... Photo Credit: Kyodo News/Getty Images
On April 5, 2009, North Korea attempted to put a satellite into orbit, but the mission failed and the rocket fell into the Pacific Ocean. Security analysts believed this was yet another attempt for North Korea ... Photo Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP Photo
In an effort to send messages to citizens of North Korea, defectors now living in South Korea launch balloons near the border and watch them float across the DMZ into North Korea. The payloads will range from p... Photo Credit: Getty Images
A North Korean soldier points his camera at U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, left, as he photographs him through a window at the Joint Security Area that sits on the border of the DMZ in Panmunjom, South ... Photo Credit: Getty Images
A photograph showing a night time view of the Korean Peninsula made from the International Space Station, Jan. 30, 2014. Unlike daylight images, city lights at night illustrate dramatically the relative econom... Photo Credit: NASA
The Korean Central News Agency was established in 1946 and is the central vehicle in which news about North Korea is disseminated for foreign consumption. Considered propaganda by western news agencies, the KCN... Photo Credit: Korean Central News Agency/REUTERS
Tour groups visiting the Joint Security Area of the DMZ are allowed to visit the site but visitors must adhere to a strict dress code as well as sign a document stating, “The visit to the Joint Security A... Photo Credit: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images
Kim Jong Il was said to be a big fan of the NBA and Chicago Bulls and appears to have passed his love of the game to his son.

Former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman, right, and North Korean ... Photo Credit: Kyodo News via Getty Images
Many Korean families were separated when the Korean War began and have gone for decades not knowing the condition of their loved ones. A family reunion program organized by the two countries has been hosting fa... Photo Credit: Korea Press Photographers Assoc./Getty Images
Thousands of brightly colored ribbons adorn the barbed wire fence at the Imjingak Peace Park at the South Korean border city of Paju near the Demilitarized Zone on Jan. 1, 2016. The ribbons have messages writte... Photo Credit: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images
North Korea has a record of detaining American citizens on charges ranging from illegal entry into the country to espionage to "hostile acts."

Otto Frederick Warmbier cried and bowe... Photo Credit: Kyodo/AP Photo
A South Korean honor guard carries the boxes containing the remains of 15 South Korean and two American soldiers killed inside North Korea during the war. The joint repatriation ceremony was held at Knight Fiel... Photo Credit: Jeon Heon Kyun/AFP/Getty Images
In the shadow of the Hushan section of the Great Wall of China, a fence marks the North Korean-China border on an island in the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju and the Chinese border city of Da... Photo Credit: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is seen talking to scientists and technicians involved in nuclear weapons research at an undisclosed location in North Korea in an undated photo released by the Korean Central Ne... Photo Credit: North Korean Central News Agency/EPA
On April 18, 2017, the U.S. Pacific Command announced that the USS Carl Vinson Strike Group was heading to the Western Pacific. The nuclear powered aircraft carrier, surrounded by U.S. and South Korean support ... Photo Credit: U.S. Navy via Getty Images
On May 15, 2017, the UN Security Council strongly condemned North Korea's latest ballistic missile test and vowed strong measures, including more sanctions, to derail Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Pyongy... Photo Credit: Kim Won-Jin/AFP/Getty Images
This picture taken on July 4, 2017 and released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on July 5, 2017 shows the successful test-fire of the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 at... Photo Credit: KCNA via AFP/Getty Images
Kim Jong-un, center, during a briefing by scientists at the Nuclear Weapons Institute on the details of the country's nuclear weapons program. The North Korean leader inspected what was said to be a hydrogen bo... Photo Credit: KCNA via Polaris
Unified Korea's flagbearers, North Korea's ice hockey player Hwang Chung Gum, left, and South Korea's bobsledder Won Yun-jong, lead the Unified Korea's delegation as they parade during the opening ceremony of t... Photo Credit: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, takes the hand of South Korean President Moon Jae-in as the two cross the military demarcation line to the north side upon meeting for the Inter-Korean Summit April 27, 20... Photo Credit: Korea Summit Press Pool/Getty Images
President Donald Trump speaks at Joint Base Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., after he welcomed home the three Americans that were detained in North Korea. From left, Tony Kim, Trump, Kim Dong Chul and Kin H... Photo Credit: Erin Scott/Polaris

President Donald Trump tweeted late Tuesday that his own "Nuclear Button," which also does not exist, according to the New York Times, was "much bigger & more powerful" than Kim's. He added, "my Button works!"

In Kim's remarks on Monday, he also signaled that he was open to sending a delegation to the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, next month. South Korea responded by suggesting direct, high-level talks with North Korea on Jan. 9.

Today, military representatives from both countries held a phone call on a line that had been dormant for two years.

The U.N. General Assembly adopted a resolution in November calling for a truce during the Olympics.

"We do have a General Assembly resolution, an Olympic truce resolution, which I hope the [North Korean] leadership is looking at and thinking, the whole world is behind a truce, having a peaceful atmosphere for those Pyeongchang Olympics," Feltman said.

Regardless of a temporary truce, North Korea and its adversaries continue to view its nuclear program differently and could misread each other's intentions, Feltman said. While North Koreans say their weapons are necessary to make their country safer, their pursuit of what they call "deterrence" may in fact spark a "devastating" conflict, he said.

North Korean senior ruling party leader Ri Su-Yong (R) shakes hands with Jeffrey Feltman, the UN's under secretary general for political affairs, at Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang, Dec. 7, 2017.

"We were making the point that what they see as deterrence, what they see as a strength, can actually be the risk," Feltman said, "[and] actually provoke the very war they claim they're trying to prevent."

At the heart of Kim's New Year's message is a "self-confidence," Feltman said, that he also noticed during last month's talks.

"Certainly when I was there, the interlocutors I met projected confidence that their country is acquiring the type of deterrence," Feltman said, "that allows them to negotiate from a position of strength."

"The self-confidence that I ... felt when I was there must reflect the self-confidence of the leadership of [North Korea]," he added, "allowing Kim Jong Un to signal some kind of willingness to talk to the Republic of Korea about the Pyeongchang Olympics -- and de-escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a launching drill of the medium-and-long range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 at an undisclosed location, in a photo released on Sept. 16, 2017 by the Korean Central News Agency.

Despite the possibility of direct talks between the North and South, the White House said Tuesday that U.S. policy "hasn't changed at all."

"The United States is committed and will still continue to put maximum pressure on North Korea to change and make sure that it denuclearizes the peninsula," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Tuesday. "Our goals are the same and we share that with South Korea. But our policy and our process has not changed in this."

Sanders declined to comment on the possibility of North Korean athletes participating in the Olympics.

ABC News' Ben Siegel contributed reporting from Washington.