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Mar 17, 2018

New York Times | Asia Pacific: North Korea-Sweden Talks Focus on ‘Peaceful Solution’ to Nuclear Conflict

nytimes.com

North Korea-Sweden Talks Focus on ‘Peaceful Solution’ to Nuclear Conflict

Christina Anderson

A television news report in Seoul, South Korea. Talks in Sweden could facilitate a meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The Swedish and North Korean foreign ministers concluded three days of talks in Stockholm on Saturday over the security situation on the Korean Peninsula, discussions that may help facilitate a meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea.
The two sides “discussed opportunities and challenges for continued diplomatic efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict,” according to a statement issued by the Swedish Foreign Ministry at the end of the talks between Ri Yong-ho, the North’s foreign minister, and his Swedish counterpart, Margot Wallstrom.
The statement added: “Sweden underlined the need for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear arms and missiles program in line with several Security Council resolutions.”
Tensions between North Korea and the West, notably the United States, have lowered in recent weeks, but the two sides traded a series of threats and insults late last year, raising the specter of armed conflict.
Still, even as fears of a confrontation have subsided to some degree, the decision by Mr. Trump to accept an invitation from Mr. Kim for a meeting shocked diplomats and experts.
In one sign of easing relations, this year’s joint South Koren-American military exercises are expected to be shorter in duration and deploy fewer military assets. Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, reported Friday that the exercises will last only a month instead of two, and that B1-bombers and aircraft carriers would not take part, as they have in the past.
Pyongyang has long opposed the annual drills, viewing them as preparation for an attack.
The talks in Stockholm also touched on Sweden’s role in North Korea as a diplomatic stand-in for the United States, Canada and Australia, which do not have a presence there. Sweden provides so-called protective consular services for those countries, including meeting with citizens imprisoned there.
Other topics included humanitarian conditions in North Korea, sanctions, regional cooperation and security issues for South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States, according to the Swedish ministry.
In addition to his talks with the foreign minister, Mr. Ri met with Prime Minister Stefan Lofven on Friday morning.
Mr. Ri arrived in Sweden on Thursday for the talks, which had been long planned but gained widespread attention after Mr. Trump accepted Mr. Kim’s invitation.
Mr. Lofven said this month that he was willing to host a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim. “If we can help in any way, we will do it,” he said at a news conference, noting that Sweden has had an embassy in Pyongyang since the 1970s.
“Their trust in us is longstanding because we were first on the spot. We were the ones to break the ice and open an embassy,” said Erik Cornell, the Swedish ambassador who opened the country’s embassy in Pyongyang in 1975.
Niklas Swanstrom, the director of the Institute for Security and Development Policy, a Swedish research group, said the country has “had some access and influence in North Korea.”
“Comparative to other Western states, we have had a unique relationship with the North Korean government, due to our neutrality, due to our supervisory role and also the protective mission,” said Mr. Swanstrom, referring to Sweden’s supervisory role in monitoring the armistice that ended hostilities in the Korean War.
If the upcoming talks were to be held in a foreign country, then Sweden or Switzerland could be an option, Mr. Swanstrom said, but added that it was more likely they would take place in the Korean Demilitarized Zone. “The DMZ is more likely, as Mr. Kim has not traveled outside the country since he took power,” Mr. Swanstrom said.
On Friday, in a short statement to journalists, Ms. Wallstrom said, “We are glad that we can have this meeting.” She added: “But we are not naïve in any way. We do not think that we can solve this issue. It is up to the parties to solve it. If we can use our contacts in the best way, then we will do that