North Korean official heads for talks in Sweden, amid speculation on second Trump-Kim summit

A file photo taken on June 11, 2018, shows North Korean Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui (centre) arriving at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore. Ms Choe's trip to Sweden comes as expectations grow for a second meeting between North Kor
A file photo taken on June 11, 2018, shows North Korean Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs Choe Son Hui (centre) arriving at The Ritz-Carlton Millenia Singapore. Ms Choe's trip to Sweden comes as expectations grow for a second meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.PHOTO: ST FILE

SEOUL (AFP) - A top North Korean diplomat was travelling to Sweden on Tuesday (Jan 15), she told reporters, as speculation mounts over the next summit between the isolated state's leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump.

Ms Choe Son Hui, a North Korean Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs, landed in Beijing on a flight from the North Korean capital Pyongyang.

"I am going to an international conference in Sweden," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted her as saying on arrival at the airport.

Ms Choe's trip comes as expectations grow for a second meeting between Mr Kim and Mr Trump - despite a lack of progress in denuclearisation negotiations - after the North Korean leader went to Beijing, long Pyongyang's key ally, last week for talks with President Xi Jinping.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Mr Kim's trip to Beijing was a sign that a second US-North Korean summit was imminent, with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo adding at the weekend that "we're working out the details".

Suggestions circulating among Korea-watchers for possible venues include Vietnam and Thailand, among others.

Stockholm has a long history of mediating between Washington and Pyongyang. While the two do not have diplomatic relations, Sweden is the protecting power for US citizens in the Asian country, and Ms Choe has been intimately involved in the US-North Korean relationship.

 
 
 

Before she assumed her current position, she was director-general of the Foreign Ministry's North American department.

She was also among the officials who accompanied Mr Kim to Singapore for his first summit with Mr Trump in June last year.

The meeting, held in a blaze of publicity, saw the two men sign a vaguely worded document in which Mr Kim pledged to work towards "the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula".

But progress has since stalled with the two sides disagreeing over what that means.

Pyongyang is seeking sanctions relief and rejects demands for what it calls its unilateral disarmament, while Washington insists that the punitive measures must stay in place until it gives up its nuclear arsenal.

Citing a diplomatic source, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported on Tuesday that Mr Kim Yong Chol, Mr Pompeo's counterpart in the discussion process, was expected to visit Washington later this week for talks.

There were no reports that he had passed through Beijing.