Sweden hosts North Korean foreign minister amid speculation


The rare visit prompted speculation the two diplomats could lay the groundwork for a possible meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho was on Thursday en route to Sweden, which represents US interests in Pyongyang, for talks with his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom, the Scandinavian country's Foreign Ministry said.

Her U.S. trip comes as the U.S. has agreed to hold an unprecedented summit with North Korea by May to discuss denuclearization.

Sweden has had diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1973 and is one of the few Western countries with an embassy in Pyongyang.

Sweden's top diplomat said Friday that her country stands ready to assist the United States and North Korea in moving forward a historic dialogue between the two nations.

The Swedish foreign ministry said there would not be any press conferences during his visit but that it would publish a statement on Friday evening after the conclusion of talks.

Sweden's foreign ministry has refused to comment on that possibility, saying only that the talks would "focus on Sweden's consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia".

China's foreign ministry confirmed reports that Ri Yong Ho was transiting through the Chinese capital on his way to Sweden, but did not provide any further information.

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The diplomatic wheels started turning rapidly at the beginning of the year when the two Koreas worked to bring a handful of athletes from the North to compete in the Winter Olympics in South Korea.

It could suggest a potential breakthrough, or a fallback to the North's longstanding position that it's willing to get rid of its nuclear weapons if the United States guarantees its safety.

'I think it's much too early to speculate about that. we're not there yet, ' Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told news agency TT.

'We can not be naive and think that Sweden is going to resolve these problems, ' he said.

The first meeting, held Thursday, was brief, but both sides were to have "plenty of time to discuss the matters at hand" Friday, said Pezhman Fivrin, a spokesman for Wallstrom.

According to a source close to the Stockholm-Pyongyang talks, the fate of three Americans detained in North Korea is also expected to be on the agenda.

"We have always said we want to be a mediator that facilitates this process", Lofven said.

"Abe told Moon that North Korea halting its nuclear and missile programs alone is not enough, but that it must take concrete action, such as allowing IAEA inspectors in", the official added.