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North Korea To Meet US, South Korean Representatives For Talks In Finland

REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter

North Korean officials are expected to meet with U.S. and South Korean representatives in Helsinki, Finland, for unofficial talks ahead of possible major summit meetings.

The upcoming meeting will be a “track 1.5 academic meeting … involving representatives from North Korea, South Korea and the U.S.,” Finnish foreign ministry official Kimmo Lahdevirta revealed to CNN. The talks, which are to include North Korean officials, former American and South Korean officials, and security experts, were also confirmed by South Korea’s foreign ministry.

Choe Kang-il, deputy director-general for North American affairs at the North Korean foreign ministry, was spotted in Beijing Sunday on his way to Finland. “There’s nothing to share right now. I’ll speak when I return,” he told reporters, according to Yonhap News Agency.

Details on the meeting are few, but South Korea has reportedly described the meeting as a “second-tier discussion” on denuclearization.

While such talks have taken place in the past, even in 2017 as tensions between Washington and Pyongyang were on the rise, the meeting in Finland comes ahead of a potential landmark inter-Korean summit and a possible unprecedented meeting between Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump, who may soon become the first sitting American president to meet a North Korean leader.

Pyongyang has yet to publicly comment on Trump’s decision to meet Kim, which many assume shocked the North Koreans, who never expected the U.S. to move this fast on such a sensitive issue.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho just wrapped up a three-day visit to Sweden, which acts as an intermediary for the U.S. with North Korea, with which the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations.

There are reports circulating that progress is being made to secure the release of the three American detainees still being held in North Korea. The South Korean media outlet MBC is reporting that the U.S. and North Korea have “practically sealed the deal on the release” of Kim Hak-song, Kim Sang-duk, and Kim Dong Chul via diplomatic back channels, but CNN reports that Sweden is speaking with Pyongyang on America’s behalf.

It is difficult to know how far discussions on the American prisoners have progressed, and whether or not these detainees will be a topic of discussion during the talks in Finland remains unknown.

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