HELSINKI – Denuclearization is not on the agenda as North Korean envoys meet with their South Korean colleagues and former U.S. diplomats in Finland, the Nordic country's foreign minister said Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Timo Soini said in an interview with Finnish broadcaster MTV3 that nuclear weapons are not expected to be discussed at the tripartite talks.
Senior North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il, who handles North American affairs in Pyongyang, arrived in Helsinki on Sunday for talks with South Korean security experts. He is also reportedly meeting with former U.S. diplomats, including the former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Kathleen Stephens.
Finnish broadcaster YLE said the meeting kicked off with a dinner Monday in a Helsinki restaurant where the delegations were seen arriving. Actual talks began Tuesday morning at the 19th-century Konigstedt state manor house just outside Helsinki, and are set to last until Wednesday.
The Helsinki meeting is believed to be meant as building ground for an upcoming meeting between the Koreas in April and to prepare for a planned meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
YLE reported that the organizer of the meeting was Kim Joon Hyung, professor at the Handong Global University in South Korea.
In an exclusive interview with the broadcaster, he said the Helsinki meeting is the first in a series of planned meetings between the Koreas and the United States involving unofficial "academic-political" talks.
"One U.S. delegation member contacted me last fall and suggested a tripartite meeting," Kim told YLE, adding that Helsinki was picked as the location after the North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho decided to visit Stockholm in neighboring Sweden for several days of diplomatic talks. Those meetings concluded last Saturday.
The visiting delegations include six members from each country.
Finnish President Sauli Niinisto said Monday his country, which has a long history of hosting international summits, received a request to host the meeting "through middlemen."
"We're happy to host it and hope that discussions can bring issues forward," he told reporters.