STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s foreign minister held what she called “good and constructive” talks with her North Korean counterpart on Friday amid growing speculation about a possible meeting in the Scandinavian country between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom refused to say as she left the Stockholm villa where the meeting took place whether she and North Korea’s Ri Yong Ho discussed a Trump-Kim meeting. The villa is close to the embassies of South Korea and the United States. “We’ll see what happens next,” Wallstrom said.
Wallstrom earlier said Sweden hopes “we can use our role and also our contacts” to facilitate U.S.-North Korea interactions, but stressed it was up to the countries concerned to decide “which way we are going.” “We value this opportunity to arrange a meeting,” she said without specifying to what she was referring.
Ri’s surprise trip to Stockholm has taken on added significance due to the expectation that a summit of Kim and Trump could defuse the tensions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The Swedish Foreign Ministry said on Friday night that Ri and Wallstrom planned to meet again Saturday and a summary of their discussions would be provided afterward.
The ministry said ahead of the North Korean diplomat’s visit that his meetings with Wallstrom would focus on “Sweden’s consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia,” but also would address the security situation on the Korean Peninsula. Ri also held a brief meeting Friday with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. He has not made any public comments since he arrived in Stockholm on Thursday.
Lofven, speaking at a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, did not directly answer a question about whether his country had Washington’s support to organize talks with Pyongyang. “We have always said we want to be a mediator that facilitates this process,” Lofven said.
Trump has agreed to meet Kim by May. So far, North Korea has yet to comment publicly on what it hopes to gain from the talks. Ri’s visit to Stockholm, where he once served as a diplomat at the North Korean Embassy, has been shrouded in secrecy.
Sweden has been rumored as a possible site for the summit, though a truce village on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas is seen as more likely. Sweden has had diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1973 and is one of few Western countries with an embassy in Pyongyang. It provides consular services for the United States in North Korea.
The trip by Ri is being closely watched because a huge amount of preparation needs to be done before the summit. Senior South Korean officials who traveled to the North Korean capital of Pyongyang this month and met with Kim say he is willing to discuss the North’s nuclear weapons program.
That 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 U.S. guarantees its safety. In the past, that has meant Washington would have to withdraw all of its troops from South Korea, a condition no U.S. president has been willing to consider.