Yoshihiro Makino, Seoul
North Korea in December last year reached a general agreement with Sweden on holding vice-ministerial talks, a source in Seoul told the Asahi Shimbun. The agreement seems to be a result of the two nations seeing eye to eye with each other, with Pyongyang wanting to foster momentum for dialogues in order to escape sanctions and Stockholm worrying about a heightening tension between the U.S. and North Korea.
The agreement was reached when a group led by Kent Harstedt, a lawmaker and Swedish government’s special envoy, visited North Korea from December 19 through 21 last year and met with Ri Su Yong, vice chairman of the North Korean Workers’ Party, and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.
Sweden represents U.S. interests in North Korea because Washington has no diplomatic ties with Pyongyang. The Scandinavian nation has arranged meetings between its consulate and American citizens detained in North Korea. The planned vice-ministerial dialogue is expected to focus on nuclear and missile development and humanitarian issues. North Korea appears to be trying to create a foothold for opening U.S.-North Korea talks by holding the dialogue.
Sweden will attend an international meeting of foreign ministers to be held in the Canadian city of Vancouver on Jan. 16 to discuss North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. The meeting will be jointly hosted by the U.S. and Canada. Countries that sent troops to UN forces in the 1950 Korean War, such as the U.K. and France, are invited to the meeting in addition to Japan, South Korea, India, and Sweden.
European countries agree with UN sanctions resolutions, but concerns are rising that the tension between the U.S. and North Korea will intensify. In autumn last year, EU ambassadors to Pyongyang reportedly held discussions and agreed that Europe should play a role for easing tensions while enhancing its influence by imposing their own sanctions. North Korea seems to expect that Sweden will play a role of fostering momentum for dialogue at the Vancouver meeting.