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Secretive North Korean talks underway in Vantaa

Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini says that North Korean and US diplomats are not talking denuclearisation at their meetings in Helsinki.

Königstedtin kartano maaliskuussa 2018.
Königstedt Manor in Vantaa. Image: Wonsuk Choi

Finland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Timo Soini, told commercial broadcaster MTV on Tuesday that denuclearisation is not on the agenda in the meeting between North Korean, South Korean and American delegations taking place at Königstedt Manor in Vantaa, close to Helsinki.

Choe Kang Il, a deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, is currently attending the talks in Finland.

There are 18 participants at the meeting: six each from North Korea, South Korea and the United States. The only North Korean delegate whose name has been made public is Choe Kang Il while the South Korean delegation includes former ambassadors and national security advisors. Washington has sent three former ambassadors and East Asian experts to Helsinki. According to Japanese broadcaster NHK, they include Kathleen Stephens, a former US ambassador to Seoul who speaks Korean fluently.

According to South Korean professor Joonhyung Kim of Handong University, the purpose of the meeting is to conduct unofficial academic and political discussions, and the meeting has been under discussion since last autumn.

Finland's role in the talks is limited, according to President Sauli Niinistö.

"We're prepared to offer good offices, as they say in diplomacy," said Niinistö. "There was a desire to come to Finland. We are happy to host and we hope that discussions will move things forward."

Nuclear programme 'not on the table'

Soini said in an interview with MTV on Tuesday that North Korea’s nuclear programmes were not on the table.

“This is a so-called 1.5 track meeting with academics and officials, with Finland only a facilitator," said Soini. "But since we're talking about a 1.5 track, I think there will be no talk about nuclear weapons.” (The term track 1.5 diplomacy is used to define a situation where both official and non-official actors cooperate to resolve a conflict.)

“It is good to have the discussion going on and take advantage of this timeframe that was opened between the South and North Korea before the [Winter] Olympics last [month],” Soini said.

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