March 20, 2018 / 7:55 AM / a month ago

North Korea denuclearization not on the agenda in Helsinki talks: Finland

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Denuclearization is not on the agenda of a meeting in Finland between delegations from North Korea, South Korea and the United States, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said on Tuesday.

North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il leaves the restaurant Saaga with other members of the North Korea delegation, in Helsinki, Finland March 19, 2018. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.

Choe Kang Il, a deputy director general for North American affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, is attending the talks in Finland amid a series of diplomatic encounters ahead of a possible U.S.-North Korean summit.

But Soini, speaking in an interview with Finnish broadcaster MTV, said North Korea’s nuclear programmes were not on the table at the talks that end on Wednesday.

“This is a so-called 1.5 track meeting with academics and officials, with Finland only a facilitator ... but since we talk about 1.5 track, I think there will be no talk about nuclear weapons.”

Members of the North Korean delegation leave the restaurant Saaga in Helsinki, Finland March 19, 2018. Lehtikuva/Jussi Nukari via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. NOT FOR USE BY REUTERS THIRD PARTY DISTRIBUTORS. FINLAND OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN FINLAND.

“It is good to have the discussion going on and take the use of this time frame that was opened between the South and North Korea before the (Winter) Olympics (last month),” Soini said.

The 18 delegates were secluded in talks at a 19th century government manor outside town.

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No statements were given when they left in the afternoon but South Korean delegate Kim Joon-Hyung, professor of international politics from Handong Global University, told reporters later that the talks had been “productive” and that the atmosphere had been good.

The meeting is one of a series of academic meetings over the years to explore Northeast Asian issues, the foreign ministry said in a statement earlier in the day.

“The meeting has been planned well in advance of recent promising developments related to the Korean situation,” it added.

North Korean and Swedish foreign ministers ended three days of talks on Saturday on security on the Korean peninsula in preparation for a potential meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea is pursuing its nuclear and missile programmes in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions and has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Richard Balmforth

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