N. Korean Foreign Minister meets Swedish PM in Stockholm

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Stockholm, March 16 (IANS) North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho attended talks in Stockholm with Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Friday, ahead of a possible meeting between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

The meeting was believed to be among the first steps to clearing the diplomatic abyss between Washington and Pyongyang, the BBC reported.

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 Ri’s visit fuelled speculation that a Stockholm encounter was in the cards.

Ri and Lofven met at the government headquarters in the Swedish capital. The North Korean official had also met his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom.

Sweden’s Foreign Ministry earlier said their discussions would focus on tensions between the two Koreas and Sweden’s diplomatic work on behalf of the US in North Korea.

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According to Sweden’s SVT Nyheter news website, Ri’s visit was extended from the scheduled two days and he will now stay in Sweden until Sunday.

The agenda of the talks was broadened, the report said. One topic was said to be confidence-building measures with the US, including the release of US citizens from North Korean detention.

Trump last week accepted an invitation for direct talks with Kim, a shock announcement from the two leaders who had traded threats and insults for months.

There was no official word from North Korea since the invitation was delivered via South Korean officials in Washington.

Meanwhile, the Swedish Prime Minister told his country’s news agency TT that “if the main actors (North Korea and the US) want Sweden to play a role (in holding a summit), then we are ready to do that”.

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“We are a country that is militarily non-aligned and have a longstanding presence in North Korea, and with the trust we enjoy we think we can play a role. But it has to be the main actors who decide which role Sweden will play.”

Ri’s trip comes as Nirj Deva, the chair of a European parliamentary delegation, told reporters 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.

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

However, Britain’s former charge d’affaires in Pyongyang Jim Hoare said he was not sure Kim would travel to a European country, where there might be attempts to arrest him, CNN reported.

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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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