No news on Trump-Kim summit as North Korea wraps up Sweden talks

Sweden’s Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom talks to journalists, on March 16, 2018 in the Swedish house of parliment in Stockholm, to comment her meeting with the North Korean Foreign Minister the day before. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had arrived at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport on March 16, 2018 before being whisked away in a diplomatic motorcade. (AFP/TT News Agency/Soren Andersson)
Updated 18 March 2018
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No news on Trump-Kim summit as North Korea wraps up Sweden talks

STOCKHOLM: North Korean officials wrapped up three days of talks with Swedish counterparts with no indication their efforts cleared the way for a mooted nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, as a senior Pyongyang diplomat headed to Finland Sunday for further meetings.
The North’s state KCNA news agency said Sunday the Stockholm talks had discussed “bilateral relations and other issues of mutual concern,” without providing further detail.
The meetings in Sweden came a week after Trump agreed to a summit proposal relayed by South Korean envoys who met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang.
His response triggered a race to set a credible agenda for what would be historic talks between the two leaders.
But no specific time or venue has been set and North Korea has yet to confirm it even made the offer to meet.
Choe Kang Il, deputy director for North American affairs at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry, was seen at Beijing airport Sunday departing for Finland, where he is expected to hold talks with former US ambassador to Seoul Kathleen Stephens, multiple media reports said.
Earlier reports had listed Choe among the North’s delegation to Sweden.
Choe, experienced in negotiations with the US, is expected to meet the retired US diplomat as well as other retired South Korean diplomats, the South’s Yonhap news agency said, citing an unnamed diplomatic source.
“But no current US or South Korean officials will be there,” Yonhap quoted the source in Seoul as saying.
In Stockholm, the Swedes were seeking to pave the way for talks which could end a threat of nuclear war, using the leverage of their longstanding ties with Pyongyang, where its diplomatic mission opened in 1975, the first Western embassy to be established in the hermit country.
The embassy today represents US, Canadian and Australian diplomatic interests, giving Sweden a key liaison role and facilitating the talks in Stockholm between Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom and counterpart Ri Yong Ho.
Ri also met with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, who Friday said Sweden hoped to be a summit “facilitator.”
A senior US administration official told AFP Friday no US government staff would be meeting with the North Koreans in Sweden, where Ri was stationed as a diplomat for three years in the mid 1980s.
Wallstrom had earlier said the talks extended into Saturday given the “constructive atmosphere” of the first two days.
No concrete announcements emerged Saturday, as the Swedish foreign ministry stated that “the talks focused primarily on the security situation on the Korean peninsula, which is high on the UN Security Council agenda.”
Noting Sweden’s “consular responsibilities as a protecting power” for the United States, Canada and Australia, the statement indicated the “foreign ministers discussed opportunities and challenges associated with continued diplomatic efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict.”
The ministry added that “Sweden underlined the need for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programs in accordance with Security Council resolutions.”
It also stated that “other discussions centered on the humanitarian situation in North Korea, sanctions, and regional cooperation and security issues for countries including South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States.”
In line with previous sessions of talks, Ri made no comments to the media.
The Swedes added Ri also visited the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute global security think tank for “off the record” talks with chairman Jan Eliasson and other senior officials on the situation in the Korean peninsula.


Kazakhstan renames capital after retiring leader Nazarbayev as new president Tokayev takes office

Updated 9 min 27 sec ago
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Kazakhstan renames capital after retiring leader Nazarbayev as new president Tokayev takes office

  • Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took office in a pomp-filled ceremony less than 24 hours after Nursultan Nazarbayev stepped down
  • Tokayev immediately proposed changing the name of the Central Asian nation’s capital

ALMATY: Kazakhstan’s new president was sworn in Wednesday following the shock resignation of the country’s long-time ruler and in his first official act renamed the capital after his predecessor.
Kassym-Jomart Tokayev took office in a pomp-filled ceremony less than 24 hours after Nursultan Nazarbayev, the only leader an independent Kazakhstan had ever known, suddenly announced he was stepping down.
Tokayev immediately proposed changing the name of the Central Asian nation’s capital from Astana to Nursultan, or “Sultan of Light” in Kazakh, and parliament approved the change within hours.
The senate also appointed Nazarbayev’s eldest daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva as speaker, setting her up as a potential contender to succeed her father.
Tokayev, 65, will serve out the rest of Nazarbayev’s mandate until elections due in April next year, though the former president retains significant powers in the country he ruled for nearly three decades.
Tokayev told lawmakers that Nazarbayev had “shown wisdom” by deciding to step down, a rare move in ex-Soviet Central Asia where other leaders have hung on to power until death.
“Yesterday the world witnessed a historic event,” Tokayev said, hailing Nazarbayev as a visionary reformer.
“The results of an independent Kazakhstan are there for all to see,” he added.
Nazarbayev changed the capital from Kazakhstan’s largest city Almaty to Astana in 1997, transforming it from a minor provincial town into a futuristic city of skyscrapers rising from the steppes.
Its name meant “capital” in Kazakh and there had long been speculation of a renaming after the leader who shaped it.
The city is central to government propaganda highlighting the achievements of Nazarbayev’s reign and his journey to build it was recently the subject of a state-funded film, “Leader’s Path: Astana.”
Nazarbayev, 78, ruled Kazakhstan since before it gained independence with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
He steered the country through a major transformation, developing huge energy reserves and boosting its international influence, but was accused of cracking down on dissent and tolerating little opposition.
Nazarbayev will continue to enjoy significant powers thanks to his constitutional status as “Leader of the Nation,” life-time position as chief of the security council and head of the ruling Nur Otan party.
Tokayev appeared to be in pole position to take over in the long term until senators voted shortly after his swearing-in to name Dariga Nazarbayeva, 55, as their new chief.
She is the most politically prominent of Nazarbayev’s three children and has long been mooted as a potential successor.
Kazakhstan’s deputy prime minister from 2015 to 2016, Nazarbayeva has significant influence over the media.
Analysts said it was too early to declare a clear frontrunner to become the next elected president, with the recently named prime minister, 53-year-old Askar Mamin, another possible contender.
Tokayev, the interim president, has a strong diplomatic record dating back to the Soviet period and has twice been foreign minister.
This should go some way to reassuring Kazakhstan’s major partners including China, the European Union, Russia and the United States that the move will not threaten key relationships.
Tokayev “is a safe pair of hands, he is a loyal presidential lieutenant,” said Kate Mallinson, a Russia and Eurasia expert at the London-based Chatham House think-tank.
Kazakhstan-based analyst Dosym Satpayev described Tokayev as a “heavyweight” but said he lacked popular appeal.
As for Kazakh society’s reaction to Dariga Nazarbayeva, it “would be mixed to say the least,” Satpayev said.
“A candidate from the family would be controversial and Dariga does not speak the state language, Kazakh, as well as her father,” he said.
Satpayev also pointed to another Nazarbayev relative — nephew Samat Abish, a high-ranking security official who rarely appears in public — as a potential contender from inside the family circle.
“This would be something like a Putin scenario, wherein a connected figure appears from the shadows at the last moment,” Satpayev said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s sudden emergence following Boris Yeltsin’s sudden retirement in 1999.
The new leader will need to tackle growing discontent over falling living standards after Kazakhstan’s economy was hit by the 2014 drop in oil prices and western sanctions against Russia, a key trading partner.