South Korean media said Sunday a senior North Korean diplomat is headed to Finland to meet with former U.S. diplomats, this after a North Korean delegation wrapped up three days of talks with Swedish diplomats that could lead to a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Yonhap news agency reports Choe Kang Il, North Korea’s deputy director-general for North American affairs, was seen at Beijing Capital International Airport before boarding a flight to Finland.
Diplomatic sources say former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens will be among the former U.S. diplomats who will meet with Choe. The North Korean official is also expected to talk with security experts from Seoul.
Yonhap says the diplomats at the Finnish talks will “exchange opinions onthe denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and an inter-Korean summit slated for late April and a U.S.-North Korea summit expected in May.”
Talks in Sweden
On Friday, Swedish U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog said his country was trying to help de-escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula by hosting talks. Sweden is one of the few Western powers to have an embassy in Pyongyang. There, it provides diplomatic services for not only Swedes, but also U.S., Canadian and Australian citizens.
“The security situation on the peninsula is one of the most pressing issues on the world agenda right now, and if Sweden can play a part in de-escalation there, this is what we’re trying to do,” Skoog told reporters in New York.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven met briefly in Stockholm Friday, but Skoog and Lofven’s spokesman would not disclose what the two officials discussed.
Skoog added, however, the talks in Stockholm would hopefully help “create a good environment for such a meeting” and declined to comment when asked if Sweden would host a meeting of the U.S. and North Korean leaders.
“We just want to be helpful in pursuing a de-escalation on the peninsula,” he said.
Emphasis on denuclearization
The majority of Ri’s time was spent with Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallstrom. At the conclusion of the talks, Sweden’s foreign ministry released a statement saying Wallstrom emphasized to the North Korean official “the need for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arms and missiles program in line with several [U.N.] Security Council resolutions.”
The statement also said the two officials discussed “opportunities and challenges for continued diplomatic efforts.”
U.S. President Donald Trump reaffirmed his plan to meet by the end of May with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to negotiate Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the White House said Friday. In a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump expressed “cautious optimism” over recent developments regarding North Korea.
The White House said the two leaders discussed preparations for their upcoming negotiations with North Korea and agreed “concrete actions, not words” were key to any denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea, however, has not officially confirmed the meeting and no specific time or venue has been set.
South Korea’s senior press secretary Yoon Young-chan said Moon pledged to “create an atmosphere for the successful opening of the U.S.-North Korean summit” when he meets with the North Korean leader in April.
South Korea said Moon also talked by phone Friday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who expressed the possibility of having a North Korea-Japan dialogue. A South Korean spokesman said the two leaders agreed to strengthen their cooperation to work together and with the United States to bring about the denuclearization of North Korea.
Earlier, Im Jong-seok, Moon’s chief of staff, said South Korea is seeking high-level talks this month with North Korea to prepare for the inter-Korea summit in April. He also said Moon could meet with Trump after the inter-Korea summit, but before Trump holds his planned meeting with the North Korean leader in May.