BRUSSELS – The release of three U.S. citizens held in North Korea should not be a condition for the planned summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Sweden’s foreign minister said on Monday.
The United States has no embassy in Pyongyang and relies on Sweden, the so-called U.S. protecting power there, to do consular work, especially to help Americans in trouble.
Asked about the three Americans, Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said: “I don’t want to have those elements involved in all of this … this is not a time to put up a lot of conditions and preconditions.”
The State Department’s recently retired envoy for North Korea said on Thursday he had urged North Korea to send a positive signal by releasing Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Kim Sang-duk before the summit.
Wallstrom did not directly address the question of whether Stockholm was helping to negotiate their release, despite a report by CNN this week saying that it was.
“We are the protective power for the U.S. and it means we will try to take our consular responsibilities seriously,” she told Reuters after an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels, which was also attended by South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha.
North Korea has in the past taken visits by former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as a cue to release other Americans it had in custody.
Over the last two decades, North Korea has held more than a dozen Americans in detention, typically using them as bargaining chips in its dealings with Washington.
Trump reaffirmed last week that he was willing to meet Kim Jong Un after South Korean officials passed on an invitation. North Korea has not publicly acknowledged the invitation so far.
Wallstrom said she expected there to be meetings between North and South Korean officials in April, and the summit to take place by the end of May.