Sweden hosts 'constructive' North Korea talks, eye on second summit with the US

The flag of North Korea flutters in front of its embassy in Rome, Italy, on Jan 3, 2019.
The flag of North Korea flutters in front of its embassy in Rome, Italy, on Jan 3, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

STOCKHOLM (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Talks held near the Swedish capital Stockholm that ended on Monday (Jan 21) and included representatives from North and South Korea and the United States were constructive, Sweden's Foreign Ministry said.

The discussions were aimed at paving the way for a second summit planned for next month between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

"Constructive talks have been held covering issues concerning developments on the Korean peninsula, including confidence building, economic development and long-term engagement," a ministry spokesman said.

Trump is due to meet Kim in late February but will maintain economic sanctions on Pyongyang, a White House spokesman said last Friday.

That announcement coincided with the visit to Washington of former North Korean spy chief Kim Yong Chol and hinted at movement in a denuclearisation effort that has stalled since a landmark first meeting between Trump and the North Korean leader last year.

A diplomatic source said the Swedish round-table conference, held on the outskirts of Stockholm over the weekend and concluded on Monday, had touched on the planned summit while bilateral talks had also been held on the sidelines.

"Different mechanisms for regional security have been discussed, that issue was something to which a lot of time was devoted," the source said.

North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun and South Korean negotiator Lee Do-hoon took part.

Sweden serves as "protecting power" in North Korea for the United States, which has no representation in Pyongyang, and also held talks with North Korean officials last year in the lead-up to the first Trump-Kim summit.

 
 
 

Separately, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha defended US efforts to advance North Korea talks, saying in an interview that it would be "excessive" to say Washington is compromising on its denuclearisation goals.

"There's no shifting - not a bit - about what the goal is. It's complete denuclearisation," Kang told the Yonhap News Agency in an interview published on Tuesday. Kang said that the US was negotiating with North Korea "on behalf of the global community".

Negotiations between the two sides have picked up pace of late and there have been suggestions the US might be softening its insistence on keeping economic sanctions, after Kim had threatened to take a "new path" if Washington didn't ease off.

Kim knows "clearly that he cannot deliver economic development while under international sanctions", Kang said, according to a video of the interview posted by Yonhap. North Korea needs to "deliver on the denuclearisation track" to get relief, she said.

The summit was expected to take place in Vietnam, Bloomberg News reported Sunday, citing people familiar with the talks.

Kang also said that declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War was "something that will also further encourage the denuclearisation process".

She said humanitarian assistance for North Korea must be "separately considered" from the ongoing talks.

Meanwhile, the Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported that the US special envoy Biegun had asked the North's Choe Son Hui for a freeze on nuclear fuel and weapons production. The request was made during the talks in Sweden after the summit announcement, the report said, citing diplomatic officials in Washington that it didn't identify.