Stockholm, Sweden, Mar 17 – North Korean officials wrapped up three days of talks with Swedish counterparts with no indication their efforts cleared the way for a mooted nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, as a senior Pyongyang diplomat headed to Finland Sunday for further meetings.
The North’s state KCNA news agency said Sunday the Stockholm talks had discussed “bilateral relations and other issues of mutual concern”, without providing further detail.
The meetings in Sweden came a week after Trump agreed to a summit proposal relayed by South Korean envoys who met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.
His response triggered a race to set a credible agenda for what would be historic talks between the two leaders.
But no specific time or venue has been set and North Korea has yet to confirm it even made the offer to meet.
Choe Kang Il, deputy director for North American affairs at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, was seen at Beijing airport Sunday departing for Finland, where he is expected to hold talks with former US ambassador to Seoul Kathleen Stephens, multiple media reports said.
Earlier reports had listed Choe among the North’s delegation to Sweden.
Choe, experienced in negotiations with the US, is expected to meet the retired US diplomat as well as other retired South Korean diplomats, the South’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.
“But no current US or South Korean officials will be there,” Yonhap quoted the source in Seoul as saying.
– Summit ‘facilitator’ –
In Stockholm, the Swedes were seeking to pave the way for talks which could end a threat of nuclear war, using the leverage of their longstanding ties with Pyongyang, where its diplomatic mission opened in 1975, the first Western embassy to be established in the hermit country.
The embassy today represents US, Canadian and Australian diplomatic interests, giving Sweden a key liaison role and facilitating the talks in Stockholm between Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and counterpart Ri Yong Ho.
Ri also met with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who Friday said Sweden hoped to be a summit “facilitator”.
A senior US administration official told AFP Friday no US government staff would be meeting with the North Koreans in Sweden, where Ri was stationed as a diplomat for three years in the mid 1980s.
Wallstrom had earlier said the talks extended into Saturday given the “constructive atmosphere” of the first two days.
No concrete announcements emerged Saturday, as the Swedish foreign ministry stated that “the talks focused primarily on the security situation on the Korean peninsula, which is high on the UN Security Council agenda.”
Noting Sweden’s “consular responsibilities as a protecting power” for the United States, Canada and Australia, the statement indicated the “foreign ministers discussed opportunities and challenges associated with continued diplomatic efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict.”
The ministry added that “Sweden underlined the need for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programmes in accordance with Security Council resolutions.”
It also stated that “other discussions centred on the humanitarian situation in North Korea, sanctions, and regional cooperation and security issues for countries including South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States.”
In line with previous sessions of talks, Ri made no comments to the media.
The Swedes added Ri also visited the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute global security think tank for “off the record” talks with chairman Jan Eliasson and other senior officials on the situation in the Korean peninsula.