North Korea nuclear crisis
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Choe Kang-il, a senior North Korean diplomat handling North American affairs, is seen at the Beijing Capital International Airport before heading to Finland for talks with the US and South Korea officials. Photo: AP

Senior North Korea official in Finland for US talks as Kim Jong-un ‘takes stock’ of Donald Trump meeting

There has been no public North Korean response to Donald Trump in the nearly two weeks since he stunned the world by agreeing to meet with Kim Jong-un, a diplomatic gambit with huge stakes for both countries

A senior North Korean diplomat has arrived in Finland for talks with US and South Korean officials on a mooted nuclear summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Choe Kang-il, deputy director for North American affairs at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, was expected to meet retired US diplomat Kathleen Stephens, according to multiple reports.

The meeting follows three days of talks between North Korean and Swedish officials in Stockholm that apparently fell short of clearing the way for a US-North Korea summit attended by both nation’s leaders.

Sweden plays a key liaison role between the West and North Korea and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom met counterpart Ri Yong-ho at the weekend.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and his delegation in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: EPA

Trump earlier this month stunned many observers by agreeing to meet the North Korean leader following months of spiralling tensions on the Korean peninsula over Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

His response triggered a race to set a credible agenda for what would be historic talks between the two leaders.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

But no specific time or venue has been set and North Korea has made no public response.

South Korea’s foreign minister said the North Korean leader was “taking stock” of Trump’s surprise decision to accept his invitation for talks, according to an interview that aired Sunday.

“We give [North Korea] the benefit of the doubt, and the time that he would need to come out with some public messaging,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Kang said a channel of communication has been established, adding, “I’m sure there are back and forth messages.”

“But, I think the North Korean leader would also need some time, given the readiness with which President Trump has accepted the invitation to talks.”

The invitation was relayed to Trump at an impromptu White House meeting March 6 by South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong, who previously had met with Kim.

Chung told Trump that Kim had agreed to discuss denuclearisation, and would suspend all missile and nuclear tests until the talks were held.

Trump accepted on the spot, catching his own top advisers off guard.

“I think we were all quite surprised by the readiness of that decision,” Kang said.

He said Kim had “given his word” on his commitment to denuclearisation, a key condition for the unprecedented leader-to-leader talks.

“But the significance of his word is quite, quite weighty in the sense that this is the first time that the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself, and that has never been done before.”

He said nothing has been offered to the North Koreans to engage in negotiations, and South Korea made it clear “there will be no reward for dialogue.”

Asked if South Korea trusted Kim, Kang said: “It’s not a matter of trusting. It’s a matter of discussing, and pressing for action. And once you see those actions, then you move forward further.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Pyongyang diplomat in Finland for summit talks