Sweden hosts North Korean foreign minister amid speculation

Pauline Gross
March 18, 2018

North Korea's Minister for Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-Ho is to meet his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallström on March 15th and 16th, the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Thursday.

Ri and Wallstrom dined together at the foreign ministry on Thursday evening, then met again on Friday at Villa Bonnier, a lavish building used by the government for official functions which is located near the U.S. embassy.

Tokyo's insistence on including discussion of the abductions by North Korean agents could cause friction between Japan, South Korea and the United States if Seoul or Washington were willing to cut a denuclearisation deal with Pyongyang separate from any abduction pact.

"They met this morning and discussed the same issues that are being discussed during this trip, such as the security situation", he said.

The ministry referred to the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs, saying the U.N. "A press release summarizing the talks will be published when the talks are concluded, in the evening of 16 March".

Im added that he could not rule out the possibility that Moon may meet U.S. President Donald Trump after the inter-Korean summit but before Trump's planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in May.

The North Korean diplomat arrived in Sweden on Thursday and held discussions with both Wallstrom and the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven.

Speaking Wednesday at a news conference in Strasbourg, the British-based member of the European Parliament said he and his colleagues have been "relentlessly advocating the case for dialogue without preconditions - preconditions which I knew would abort any successful talks even before they started".

A senior US administration official told AFP: "No US government staff are meeting with the North Koreans in Sweden".

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Some Swedish and foreign media have said that Ri - who was stationed at North Korea's embassy in Stockholm in 1985-1988 - will stay in the Scandinavian country until Sunday for other talks, though Swedish officials would not confirm those reports.

"If we can help in any way, we will do it", he noted, adding that "the fact that we are a protecting power for the USA, have been at the border since the 1950s, and have had an embassy in Pyongyang since the start of the 1970s has given us a special relationship with North Korea in which we feel they trust us".

Meanwhile, Swedish public broadcaster SVT said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) was involved in the talks, though SIPRI did not return AFP's calls for a comment. Its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang, which opened in 1975, was the first Western embassy established in the country.

The talks are to focus on Sweden's consular role as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia in North Korea.

North Korea has made no official comment on the proposed face-to-face meeting since Trump accepted Kim's invitation, which was delivered verbally by a South Korean delegation.

Sweden, whose embassy represents U.S. interests in the North Korean capital, has been touted as a possible venue for the momentous summit between Kim and Trump, and the visit will fuel speculation that a Stockholm encounter is in the cards.

TBS said Abe told Moon he wanted North Korea to not only suspend nuclear and missile testing, but also accept IAEA inspectors on its soil.

The villa is close to the embassies of South Korea and the United States.

Other reports by GizPress

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