N.Korean Foreign Minister arrives in Sweden

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Stockholm, March 16 (IANS) North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho has arrived in Sweden on a surprise visit, the first significant diplomatic move by Pyongyang since US President Donald Trump said that he was willing to meet Kim Jong-un, the media reported.

Ri arrived at the Swedish Foreign Ministry on Thursday night, reports CNN.

Sweden, whose embassy represents US 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.

Talks between Ri and his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom will “focus on Sweden’s consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the US, Canada and Australia”, the Swedish government said, announcing the two-day visit.

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The security situation on the Korean Peninsula is also on the agenda.

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

But diplomatic sources have signaled enough confidence in South Korea’s words and actions that most of the parties are pressing ahead.

Ri’s trip comes as Nirj Deva, the chair of a European parliamentary delegation, told reporters on Wednesday that his group has been holding secret meetings with senior members of the North Korean regime over the past three years to try to convince it to return to peace talks, CNN reported.

“We met in secret with senior North Koreans on 14 occasions… We understood their concerns and they understood ours,” Deva said.

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Sweden was one of the first non-communist countries to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1973.

It posted diplomats there shortly thereafter, said Jim Hoare, Britain’s former charge d’affaires in Pyongyang, told CNN.

However, Hoare said he was not sure Kim would travel to a European country, where there might be attempts to arrest him.

Other possible summit locations include: Switzerland, the neutral nation where Kim went to school; the Joint Security Area in the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea; and China, which has diplomatic relations with the US and North Korea and has hosted Kim’s father, the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

–IANS

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