U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced Tuesday they will co-host a meeting in Vancouver next month about the increasingly erratic behaviour by a nuclear North Korea.
The two top diplomats told reporters most of the countries who fought in the 1950-53 Korean War have been invited to participate in the discussions in the B.C. city on Jan. 16, 2018. Those countries, tentatively dubbed the "Vancouver Group," are part of an aggressive diplomatic campaign designed to force the rogue regime to the negotiation table and avoid devastating military action.
"We continue to find ways to advance the pressure campaign against North Korea, and send a unified message from the international community: 'We will not accept you as a nuclear weapons nations.'
"We share one goal, full and complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Tillerson said.
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He said this display of solidarity sends a message to North Korea that the rest of world is prepared to talk. "We can't talk unless North Korea is ready to talk. We're waiting for them to indicate a readiness to talk — this pressure campaign will not abate. We will not be rolling any of it back," the former Exxon Mobil CEO said.
Canada is pitching the conference as a way to jump-start diplomatic talks as the so-called six-party talks — South Korea, North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia — broke off in 2009.
"This is another visible sign that the international community is acting in concert to speak to the government of North Korea and to say this is threatening us all and the pressure will increase until the behaviour changes," Freeland added.
When asked if this plea for talks with the regime differs from that of Trump, who has taken a hostile stance, threatening to launch military strikes if behaviour does not improve, Tillerson said he is presenting a united front with the White House. "The president's campaign has always been ... a pressure campaign of sanctions, and diplomatic pressure. The White House ... they haven't rejected diplomatic talks."
Tillerson's openness to talk comes nearly two weeks after North Korea said it had successfully tested a breakthrough intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland within range. In September, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, the second to fly over Japan in less than a month.
Tillerson highest ranking U.S. official to travel to Canada
Tillerson is the highest-ranking official in the Trump administration to visit Canada. Despite precedent in recent years, U.S. President Donald Trump did not make his first trip abroad to Canada.
Tillerson first sat down with Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, a meeting that went some 25 minutes longer than scheduled. He then met with the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations.
He later met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the two discussed North Korea and NAFTA, as well as Canada's ongoing trade dispute with the U.S. over softwood lumber, according to a readout of the meeting released by the Prime Minister's Office.
Tillerson and Freeland are said to have a productive working relationship as evidenced by the warm embrace the two shared as the secretary of state arrived at the Ottawa airport's VIP terminal.
"I am delighted to be in Canada, and I appreciate the above-freezing temperatures in Ottawa, I understand, so thank you for that," Tillerson joked, referencing the warmer than usual weather in the nation's capital.
"It's a very important relationship between the U.S. and Canada, a strong relationship, and we look forward to strengthening that through these talks," he said.
Freeland said global issues are top of mind, but also "some issues concerning our bilateral relationship."
Tillerson's visit comes amid uncertainty about the secretary's position in Trump's cabinet. Numerous news reports have suggested Trump is poised to dump the former Exxon Mobil chairman in favour of Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.