Swiss ready to mediate in North Korea crisis

BERNE (Reuters) - Neutral Switzerland is prepared to act as a mediator to help resolve the North Korea crisis, including by hosting ministerial talks, Swiss President Doris Leuthard said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Swiss President Doris Leuthard holds a news conference after meeting European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Leuthard said Swiss troops were deployed on the demarcation zone between South Korea and North Korea and noted that her country - along with Sweden - had a long history of neutral and discreet diplomacy. This has included Switzerland representing U.S. interests in both Iran and Cuba.

But China and the United States had to take their share of responsibility, she added, warning against “over-reactions” after the North’s sixth and largest nuclear test.

Sanctions “did not change many things” in terms of convincing Pyongyang to abandon its weapons programs, even though its population had suffered, Leuthard said.

“I think it really is time for dialogue,” she told a news conference in Berne. “We are ready to offer our role for good services as a mediator. I think in the upcoming weeks a lot will depend on how the U.S. and China can have an influence in this crisis. That’s why I think Switzerland and Sweden can have a role behind the curtain.”

Part of the task would be to find a suitable location for officials -- perhaps the countries’ foreign ministers -- to meet, she said.

“I think that’s our role, to look at what kind of possibilities we find. Because, well, Twitter won’t be an adequate instrument... This must be very discreet.”

Noting that the Communist Party congress in North Korea’s neighbor and ally China was due to take place in October, Leuthard said the time for such initiatives was not ideal, so “perhaps this was also part of the plan of North Korea.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un spent part of his youth in Berne studying under an assumed name.

A framework agreement between North Korea and the United States, under the Clinton administration, was clinched in 1994 in Geneva after long negotiations. The deal by which Pyongyang was to freeze construction of its nuclear reactors, suspected of being part of its covert weapons program, in exchange for two light water nuclear reactors, unraveled in 2003.

“North Korea is a worrying situation. We are a small country. Perhaps they could meet in Switzerland to find a political solution, not one with arms,” Leuthard said.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Trevelyan