STOCKHOLM/SEOUL: North Korea’s foreign minister held talks in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Friday amid reports Sweden could play a role in setting up a proposed summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un.
“They had a meeting. We will not disclose what they talked about,” Lofven’s spokesman Jonatan Holst said.
Ri Yong Ho arrived in the Swedish capital on Thursday evening with Choe Kang Il, deputy director general of the foreign ministry’s North America section.
Ri held talks late on Thursday with his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom, discussions which according to Swedish officials were to focus on the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and a possible Trump-Kim summit.
The talks were to continue on Friday.
“Right now, dialogue is needed and we are happy to have this meeting. But we’re not naive, we don’t think we can solve the world’s problems. It is up the parties to decide how to move forward,” Wallstrom told Swedish media in parliament on Friday.
“If we can use our contacts in the best way, we will do so,” she said, noting the situation on the Korean peninsula was “of interest to us all” in terms of security.
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.
“We can’t rule out the possibility of a contact between the North and the US” during Ri’s visit, a Beijing source told South Korea’s Yonhap agency.
Swedish public broadcaster SVT meanwhile said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) was involved in the talks, though SIPRI did not return AFP’s calls for a comment.
Sweden has long-standing ties with North Korea. Its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang, which opened in 1975, was the first Western embassy established in the country.
The embassy also represents US, Canadian and Australian diplomatic interests in North Korea, with Sweden playing a key role in liaising diplomatic talks.
South Korean officials began preparations on Friday for a summit next month with North Korea aimed at reducing tensions on the peninsula, as a report showed the North had probably begun testing a nuclear reactor as recently as late February.
The report by intelligence analysts at Jane’s by IHS Markit said satellite imagery from February 25 showed emissions of non-condensable gases from a stack at the North’s experimental light water reactor (ELWR) at the Yongbyon Atomic Energy Research Centre, suggesting preliminary testing had likely begun.
The reactor could be used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, but North Korea is believed to already have enough fissile material for multiple nuclear bombs, according to Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.