STOCKHOLM: North Korea's foreign minister is due to visit Sweden Thursday, a surprise move that can be seen as a first step toward a meeting in the Scandinavian country between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry says Ri Yong Ho will meet his Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom.
The ministry said talks "will focus on Sweden's consular responsibilities as a protecting power for the United States, Canada and Australia," but also will also address the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Sweden has had diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1973, and is now one of the few Western countries to have an embassy in Pyongyang. It provides consular services for the U.S. in North Korea.
"The aim of the visit is to contribute to the effective implementation of the resolutions," the ministry said, referring to the condemnation of North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs by the U.N. Security Council.
It said the United Nations had "emphasized the need for intensified diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict."
South Korean news agency Yonhap said Ri would be on a flight from Beijing due to land at 4:30 p.m. (1530 GMT) in Stockholm
The Swedish ministry said a statement summarizing the talks will be made available Friday.
Swedish officials, including Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, have said the country is willing to help out in the discussions between the United States and North Korea. Trump has agreed to meet Kim by May.
Swedish media say that a North Korean delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol paid a visit to Stockholm in late January and briefly met with Lofven and Wallstrom.
The trip by Ri is being closely watched because there remains a huge amount of preparation that needs to be done and relatively little time before Kim is supposedly planning to sit down for summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Trump.
So far, North Korea has yet to publicly comment on what it hopes to gain from the summits, adding an extra element of mystery and skepticism.
Senior South Korean officials who traveled to Pyongyang earlier this month and met with Kim say he is willing to discuss the North's nuclear weapons program. It could suggest a potential breakthrough, or a fallback to the North's longstanding position that it's willing to get rid of its nuclear weapons if the United States guarantees its safety.
In the past, that has meant Washington would have to withdraw all of its troops from South Korea, a condition no U.S. president has been willing to consider.
Sweden has been rumored as a possible site for the summit between Kim and Trump, though a truce village on the South Korean side of the Demilitarized Zone between the Koreas is seen as more likely.