North Korean envoy heads to Finland for further talks

SEOUL/BEIJING • North Korean officials have wrapped up three days of talks with their Swedish counterparts with no indication that their efforts cleared the way for a mooted nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Mr Kim Jong Un, as a senior Pyongyang diplomat headed to Finland yesterday for further meetings.

The North's state KCNA news agency said the Stockholm talks had discussed "bilateral relations and other issues of mutual concern", without providing further details.

The meetings in Sweden came a week after Mr Trump agreed to a summit proposal relayed by South Korean envoys who had met Mr Kim in Pyongyang. His response triggered a race to set a credible agenda for what would be historic talks between the two leaders. The summit is expected to be held by May. But no specific time or venue has been set and North Korea has yet to confirm that it even made the offer to meet.

Mr Choe Kang Il, deputy director for North American affairs at Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry, was seen at Beijing airport yesterday departing for Finland, where he is expected to hold talks with former US ambassador to Seoul Kathleen Stephens, multiple media reports said.

Mr Choe, experienced in negotiations with the United States, is expected to meet the retired American diplomat as well as other retired South Korean diplomats under the so-called "track 1.5 talks", the South's Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed diplomatic source in Seoul.

"But no current US or South Korean officials will be there," Yonhap quoted the source as saying.

Earlier reports had listed Mr Choe among the North's delegation to Sweden where Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and her North Korean counterpart Ri Yong Ho held three days of talks ending last Saturday.

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 Sweden's diplomatic mission opened in 1975, the first Western embassy to be established in the hermit country.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2018, with the headline 'North Korean envoy heads to Finland for further talks'. Print Edition | Subscribe