North Korean foreign minister arrives in Sweden amid summit speculation

North Korea's foreign minister is visiting Sweden, the first significant diplomatic move by Pyongyang since US Presid...

Posted: Mar 16, 2018 12:41 AM

North Korea's foreign minister is visiting Sweden, the first significant diplomatic move by Pyongyang since US President Donald Trump said a week ago that he'd be willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Ri was seen by a CNN crew arriving at the Swedish Foreign Ministry Thursday evening.

Sweden, whose embassy represents US interests in the North Korean capital, has been touted as a possible venue for the momentous summit between Kim and Trump, and the visit will fuel speculation that a Stockholm encounter is in the cards.

Talks between Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and her North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, will "focus on Sweden's consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia," the Swedish government said, announcing the two-day visit.

The security situation on the Korean Peninsula is also on the agenda.

North Korea has made no official comment on the proposed face-to-face meeting since Trump accepted Kim's invitation, which was delivered verbally by a South Korean delegation. But diplomatic sources have signaled enough confidence in South Korea's words and actions that most of the parties are pressing ahead.

As North Korea's top diplomat, Ri is one of the most visible faces of a country shrouded in secrecy.

He made headlines last year by telling reporters that Kim could order a hydrogen bomb test over the Pacific Ocean in response to insults from Trump. He also said Trump was "mentally deranged" and likened his threats to "a dog barking."

The trip to Sweden comes as Nirj Deva, the chair of a European parliamentary delegation, told reporters that his group has been holding secret meetings with senior members of the North Korean regime over the past three years to try to convince it to return to peace talks.

Former top US negotiator says Kim is 'in the driver's seat'

Speaking Wednesday at a news conference in Strasbourg, the British-based member of the European Parliament said he and his colleagues have been "relentlessly advocating the case for dialogue without preconditions -- preconditions which I knew would abort any successful talks even before they started."

"We met in secret with senior North Koreans on 14 occasions," Deva said. "We understood their concerns and they understood ours."

Why Sweden?

Sweden is one of a handful of places analysts believe could host the meeting, as its Pyongyang embassy is often used as an intermediary for communication between the regime and countries with which it has no diplomatic ties.

The release of Otto Warmbier, the US student who was imprisoned in North Korea, was mediated by Swedish diplomats, for example.

Sweden was one of the first non-communist countries to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1973. It posted diplomats there shortly thereafter, said Jim Hoare, Britain's former charge d'affaires in Pyongyang.

Tillerson's dismissal rattles foreign nerves ahead of North Korea summit

"The Swedes have this long-established presence in North Korea, so since the 1990s, they've particularly looked after US interests," Hoare told CNN. "There is a long record of Sweden interacting with North Korea on behalf of the Americans. There is this tradition, this link."

However, Hoare said he wasn't sure Kim would travel to a European country, where there might be attempts to arrest him.

Other options

Other possible summit locations include: Switzerland, the neutral nation where Kim went to school; the Joint Security Area in the demilitarized zone that divides North and South Korea; and China, which has diplomatic relations with the United States and North Korea and has hosted Kim's father, the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

"But the North Korean relationship with China is not very good at the moment," Hoare said.

"If they hadn't fallen out with the Malaysians, one might have thought that could have been a place," he added, referring to a diplomatic rift between Kuala Lumpur and Pyongyang over the suspected assassination of Kim's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, by North Korean agents.

US starts to prep for North Korea summit even as Pyongyang remains silent

Regardless of where the summit happens, if it happens, Trump would become the first sitting US President to meet with a North Korean leader.

Deva, the European Parliament member, hailed Trump's decision to accept an invitation from Kim as "an unprecedented display of diplomacy."

He said that the talks between Trump and Kim would only be successful if there are no preconditions.

"To me, the case is simple," he told journalists. "What we are witnessing on the Peninsula is a remnant of the Cold War in which a clash between the opposing ideologies of communism and capitalism continue to this day. This is Cold War Mark II."

Out of the blue

The reclusive regime had made overtures to US leaders in the past, but none took up the offer.

The closest contact Pyongyang has had with a US administration came in 2000, when then-President Bill Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, visited the country to lay the groundwork for a mooted meeting between the countries' leaders.

However, as US diplomats worked to set up the presidential visit, it became clear that North Korea and the US were too far apart on the details of a missile pact to justify handing then-leader Kim Jong Il the huge concession of a Clinton visit.

The idea that Trump and Kim Jong Un would sit down together was unthinkable just months ago, when North Korea was regularly testing weapons in its pursuit of developing a missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States.

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.

Since the end of the Games, Kim has hosted a high-level delegation from Seoul, which delivered the summit offer to Trump.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in credited Trump's "maximum pressure" approach, including wide-ranging sanctions on North Korea, for the diplomatic thaw.

Trump raised serious doubts about whether diplomacy with Pyongyang could work as recently as October, when he publicly said his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was "wasting his time" trying to negotiate Kim.

The White House said this week that it would replace Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who is considered more hawkish on North Korea than his predecessor. The US Senate must confirm Pompeo as top US diplomat.

A source close to the Trump administration told CNN that the reason Trump has put Pompeo at the State Department was because he "wanted a strong team ready for North Korea."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 34211

Reported Deaths: 2125
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9761576
Lake3573186
Allen160069
Cass15877
St. Joseph126634
Elkhart126228
Hendricks116671
Hamilton115493
Johnson1097108
Madison58659
Porter53428
Bartholomew50834
Clark49741
LaPorte43023
Howard40428
Tippecanoe3933
Delaware38536
Jackson3821
Shelby37122
Hancock33127
Floyd31839
Boone31635
Morgan27824
Vanderburgh2662
Montgomery23817
White2338
Noble22821
Clinton2271
Decatur22431
Grant21022
Dubois1993
Harrison19422
Henry17211
Greene16924
Vigo1688
Dearborn16821
Monroe16712
Warrick16628
Lawrence15924
Miami1401
Putnam1367
Jennings1304
Kosciusko1271
Orange12622
Scott1193
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Marshall1021
Carroll932
Daviess8516
Steuben832
Wayne785
Fayette777
Newton7710
Wabash772
LaGrange762
Jasper661
Washington521
Clay511
Jay500
Fulton491
Randolph473
Rush462
Pulaski460
Jefferson451
Whitley413
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan351
Owen341
Brown331
Perry320
Wells310
Benton300
Knox280
Huntington272
Tipton251
Blackford252
Crawford240
Fountain212
Switzerland200
Spencer201
Parke170
Adams171
Posey160
Gibson152
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin110
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0167

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 118917

Reported Deaths: 5330
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook771193603
Lake8238288
DuPage7620368
Kane6259176
Will5510273
Winnebago220955
McHenry153972
St. Clair112180
Kankakee90045
Kendall77819
Rock Island65124
Champaign6277
Madison57259
Boone44117
DeKalb3994
Sangamon34829
Jackson28210
Randolph2694
Peoria2218
McLean21813
Ogle2033
Stephenson2012
Macon19419
Clinton18617
Union15510
LaSalle15013
Whiteside13912
Iroquois1314
Coles12615
Out of IL1181
Warren1150
Jefferson10116
Grundy982
Knox980
Monroe9511
McDonough8711
Lee811
Unassigned800
Cass730
Tazewell725
Henry690
Williamson661
Pulaski560
Marion500
Jasper457
Macoupin452
Adams441
Perry420
Montgomery391
Vermilion391
Morgan361
Christian354
Livingston342
Jo Daviess320
Douglas270
Fayette203
Ford201
Jersey201
Menard200
Woodford192
Mason180
Washington180
Hancock170
Mercer170
Carroll162
Shelby161
Bureau151
Schuyler130
Bond121
Franklin120
Clark110
Crawford110
Fulton110
Moultrie110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Logan100
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Johnson80
Effingham71
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
Wabash20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 65°
Robinson
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 65°
Indianapolis
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 63°
Rockville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 61°
Casey
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 65°
Brazil
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 65°
Marshall
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 65°
A great Sunday on tap!
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events