Switzerland willing to host Korean talks

South Korean soldiers patrol along the border between the two Koreas Keystone

As tension ratchets up in the Korean peninsula, Switzerland has made it clear to the parties involved that it is ready to host talks between them, the Swiss foreign ministry confirmed on Sunday.

This content was published on April 7, 2013 - 14:04
swissinfo.ch and agencies

“Switzerland is always ready to support the search for a solution, should the parties to the conflict so desire,” a ministry spokeswoman told the Swiss News Agency by email.

She said Switzerland repeats this message at every opportunity, and had done so again recently to the North Korean authorities. However, the ministry was not aware of any plans for talks.

She was confirming a report carried in the SonntagsZeitung newspaper.

A spark

In recent weeks North Korea, apparently angered by United Nations sanctions imposed in the aftermath of its third nuclear weapon test in February and by joint US-South Korean military exercises in March, has been uttering warnings of an imminent war with South Korea and the United States.

Former Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who visited North Korea in 2003, told the SonntagsZeitung that the Korean peninsula was currently a “powder keg”, and that it needed “only a spark” to escalate the situation.

“For North Korea symbols are very important,” she told the newspaper, describing how Pyongyang had arranged her visit in order to send a message to the US and South Korea. “I think it is still what the North Koreans want: recognition and security guarantees from the US.”

Warnings

On Friday North Korea advised foreign countries with missions in Pyongyang to consider withdrawing their diplomats, saying the authorities cannot guarantee their safety after April 10. However, the countries concerned have so far disregarded this.

Switzerland does not have an embassy in North Korea, but the Swiss Agency for Cooperation and Development does have a humanitarian coordination office there. The foreign ministry told the Swiss News Agency on Friday that Switzerland has an “emergency plan”, but that for the moment it does not expect to be evacuating its staff members.

A Swiss representative attended a meeting of the heads of mission of the seven European Union countries in Pyongyang on Saturday held to discuss the situation. However, no details of the outcome have been revealed.

The latest information on the Swiss foreign ministry website for travellers to the Korean peninsula speaks of increased tension and describes the “potential for escalation” as hard to assess.

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