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N.K. top diplomat extends talks with Sweden to Saturday: report

2018/03/17 11:13

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SEOUL, March 17 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's foreign minister will continue talks with his Swedish counterpart Saturday, extending his schedule in Stockholm by one day, a news report said, ahead of a proposed summit between the North and the United States.

Ri Yong-ho, who arrived in Sweden on Thursday originally for a two-day visit, is staying in Stockholm for talks with Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Elisabeth Wallstrom on issues of "mutual interests," according to the report.

His rare trip there raised speculation that he might be discussing the issue of releasing three U.S. citizens detained in the North. Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang, is working as a communication channel for the U.S.

Talks between Sweden and North Korea will be extended through Saturday as Sweden seeks to facilitate efforts to resolve tensions on the Korean Peninsula, Reuters said.

Ri's trip has spawned speculation that a meeting in Stockholm may be aimed at laying the groundwork for a proposed summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Trump has agreed to an invitation by Kim Jong-un to meet after a year of heightened tensions over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests. Trump said that the meeting would take place by May.

After Friday's meeting with Ri, Wallstrom told reporters: "It was a good and constructive atmosphere. We'll see what happens next," according to foreign reports.

Sweden's foreign ministry earlier said, "The talks will focus on Sweden's consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia."

   North Korea's detention of foreigners has drawn sharp criticism, especially after Otto Warmbier, a U.S. college student, died last year shortly after being sent home from Pyongyang in a coma following a 17-month detention.

The North is currently holding three Americans -- Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song. The repressive regime has used detained Americans as leverage to force the U.S. to open bilateral talks with it.

The U.S. State Department said it is making efforts to secure the release of the detained citizens in response to a report that the North has agreed with the U.S. to free them, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

"We are working to see U.S. citizens who are detained in North Korea come home as soon as possible," Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was quoted as saying by RFA.

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