North Korea’s foreign minister in Sweden for key talks

There was a 'good and constructive atmosphere' as North Korea's top diplomat met Sweden's foreign minister on Friday.

North Korea's foreign minister in Sweden for key talks
Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström spoke briefly to the media after meeting Ri Yong-Ho. Photo: Sören Andersson / TT

All eyes were on Stockholm as Ri Yong-Ho met Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström for talks at Villa Bonnier, a building used by the government for official functions located near the US embassy in Sweden's capital.

“It was a good and constructive atmosphere. We'll see what happens next,” Wallström told reporters after the talks concluded. Ri made no comment as he left.

The North Korean arrived on Thursday in Sweden for meetings which could play a role in setting up a proposed summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un.

Touching down at Stockholm's Arlanda airport around 6.15pm before being whisked away in a diplomatic motorcade, he arrived with a delegation of four colleagues at 8.30pm at the Swedish foreign ministry for what Swedish news agency TT described as a working dinner.

Expressen reported the meeting ended at 11pm. On Friday morning Ri met PM Stefan Löfven at the Swedish government's Rosenbad offices in the capital, but the details of what they discussed have not been revealed.

The Scandinavian country has longstanding ties with North Korea. Its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang was the first Western embassy established in the country, in 1975.

Sweden's embassy represents US, Canadian and Australian diplomatic interests in North Korea, with the country playing a key role in liaising diplomatic talks.

During his visit, Ri was to hold talks with his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallström on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, a possible Trump-Kim summit and the fate of three Americans detained in the North.

“The whole world is naturally following the situation on the Korean peninsula. It is important, for security reasons it is of interest to us all. What is needed now is dialogue and we are happy to have this meeting. But we are not naïve and think that we can resolve all the problems of the world. It is up to the parties to decide how to go forward,” Wallström told Swedish reporters after a meeting with the parliament's EU committee.

It was initially scheduled to be a two-day visit, but it will be extended and Ri will not return home until Sunday, reported Swedish broadcaster SVT.

International media have speculated that Sweden could be a potential location if a summit were to be confirmed, however an expert on North Korea told The Local it is far from certain.

PREMIUM: What does North Korean minister's visit to Sweden mean for world politics?

Ri Yong-Ho arriving at the Swedish foreign ministry on Thursday. Photo: Erik Simander/TT

Sweden's foreign ministry would not comment on the possibility, saying in a statement only that the talks would “focus on Sweden's consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia”.

“They will also address the security situation on the Korean peninsula, which is high on the (UN) Security Council agenda,” it said. Sweden is currently a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

“The aim of the visit is to contribute to the effective implementation of the resolutions” voted by the Security Council against Pyongyang over its nuclear programme, as well as those calling “for intensified diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution of the conflict”.

Historic summit?

Ri was travelling with Choe Kang II, deputy director general of the foreign ministry's North America section, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

“We can't rule out the possibility of a contact between the North and the US” during Ri's trip to Sweden, a Beijing source told the news agency.

The Swedish foreign ministry said there would not be any press conferences during Ri's visit.

After months of tension and warmongering over Pyongyang's nuclear programme, Trump has agreed to a summit proposal relayed by South Korean envoys who met Kim Jong Un.

But no specific time or venue has been set and North Korea has yet to confirm it even made the offer to meet.

READ ALSO: Could Trump and Kim Jong-Un meet in Switzerland?

Cannot be naïve

PM Löfven said the rumours that Sweden could possibly host a summit were premature.

“I think it's much too early to speculate about that… we're not there yet,” Löfven told TT.

However, he added: “If the main actors want Sweden to play a role – facilitate, be a forum or a link or whatever it may be – then we are ready to do that,” he said, referring to North and South Korea, the US, Japan and China.

“This is such an incredibly important issue. We are a country that is militarily non-aligned and have a longstanding presence in North Korea, and with the trust we enjoy we think we can play a role.”

“But it has to be the main actors who decide which role Sweden will play.”

“We cannot be naïve and think that Sweden is going to resolve these problems,” he said.

PREMIUM: What exactly is Sweden doing in North Korea?

The North Korean delegation landing at Arlanda Airport on Thursday. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Jerker Hellström, Asia specialist at the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) under the defence ministry, said Sweden has “an important role in the Korean peninsula, both as a protecting power and its contribution to the supervision of the (Korean War) armistice agreement”.

However, North Korea watchers should not be overly optimistic about the current tone.

“The pause in escalation that we see right now is temporary,” he said, noting that Pyongyang will eventually “need to prove its capabilities in the nuclear sphere”.

Earlier this month, Trump thanked Löfven for Stockholm's efforts to negotiate the release of US student Otto Warmbier, who was arrested for stealing propaganda material during a 2016 trip to Pyongyang, but who died after returning home.

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

“We know these consular cases are of great concern to the Americans, and when there are now gestures being made from both sides to defuse tensions, this is something North Korea can consider from its side,” the unnamed source told Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter.

READ ALSO: North Korea STILL owes Sweden millions for Volvos from the 1970s


Trump’s ambassador to Denmark leaves country as president’s term ends

After three years as United States Ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands has stepped down from the post and left Copenhagen.

Trump’s ambassador to Denmark leaves country as president’s term ends
Outgoing United States Ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The now-former ambassador confirmed she had taken leave of the Danish capital via Twitter.

US president Donald Trump’s term ends on Wednesday, with President-elect Joe Biden to be inaugurated at 6pm Danish time.

“It's been a privilege serving the Trump Administration for over 3 years as U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Denmark. I’ve enjoyed promoting USA-Denmark-Faroe Islands-Greenland relations,” Sands tweeted.

“I have departed Copenhagen,” she added in a follow-up tweet.

In a video included in the tweets, Sands mentions her highlights of her time as ambassador. These include the re-opening of the US consulate in Greenland capital Nuuk alongside US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Sands, who took over as ambassador in 2017 after being appointed by Trump, is likely to be remembered as the incumbent at the time of Trump’s overtures towards purchasing Greenland, an autonomous territory within the Danish kingdom.

After Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen dismissed Trump’s suggestion that the United States could buy the Arctic territory from Denmark, the US president promptly cancelled an official visit to Denmark scheduled for September 2019.

Sands met with the Danish government on several occasions in an attempt to take the heat out of a potential diplomatic dispute.

READ ALSO: Danes pour scorn on Trump after state visit postponement

More recently, Sands was criticised for tweeting an incorrect claim that her own vote had not been counted in the country's general election.

The ambassador posted on her personal Twitter account a screenshot which she claimed showed her absentee ballot in the state of Pennsylvania had not been registered. She also made several other posts on the site following the US election in support of Trump's baseless claims of election fraud.

Several other Twitter users – as well as the New York Times – looked up Sands' vote on the Pennsylvania state government website and found it was in fact registered.

READ ALSO: US ambassador to Denmark makes incorrect Twitter claim about own vote

After a mob of Donald Trump supporters stormed the Capitol building in Washington DC on January 6th, Sands was officially contacted by foreign minister Jeppe Kofod. The minister called for Trump to concede defeat in the election and ensure a peaceful transition of power.

Newspaper Berlingske reported that this was the first time in history that a Danish foreign minister had officially protested over internal affairs in the United States.