North Korean foreign minister begins Sweden trip

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If North Korea agrees to the talks, they would be the first North-South contact since a South Korean delegation returned from a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un this month and a chance for North Korea to break its silence on promised engagements with the South and the United States.

South Korea will not compromise on North Korean denuclearization, the country's president Moon Jae-in told his USA counterpart during a phone call on Friday.

The embassy also represents US, Canadian and Australian diplomatic interests in North Korea, with Sweden playing a key role in liaising diplomatic talks.

The push for the two summits came after the North Korean leader said in a New Year's address that he wanted to improve relations with the South following a year of heightened tension. Its diplomatic mission in Pyongyang, which opened in 1975, was the first Western embassy established in the country.

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Global media have speculated that Sweden could be a potential location if a Trump-Kim summit were to be confirmed.

Sweden's foreign ministry has refused to comment on that possibility, saying only that the talks would "focus on Sweden's consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia".

"Abe told Moon that North Korea halting its nuclear and missile programmes alone is not enough, but that it must take concrete action, such as allowing IAEA inspectors in", the official added.

Swedish authorities said Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom would meet with Ri on Thursday and Friday.

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"I think it's much too early to speculate about that. we're not there yet", Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told news agency TT. But no specific time or venue has been set and North Korea has yet to confirm it even made the offer to meet.

Lofven on Thursday said Sweden was "ready to" play a role if asked.

The positive developments continue an atmosphere of rapprochement which began when North Korea expressed a willingness to attend the Winter Olympic Games in South Korea last month.

Mr Ri, a former diplomat in Stockholm and London and an ex-nuclear envoy with broad experience in negotiating with rivals South Korea and the United States, was chosen as Pyongyang's foreign minister in 2016.

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Japan has been more guarded about those talks than South Korea, and wants any discussion to include ways to resolve a dispute over the return of those abducted by North Korean agents. One topic was said to be confidence-building measures with the U.S., including the release of USA citizens from North Korean detention.

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