Message of next week's summit on North Korea also aimed at Trump's White House

When more than a dozen foreign ministers meet in Vancouver next week to discuss diplomacy and North Korea, Kim Jong-un won't be the sole target of their messaging. A source tells CBC News a public show of support for non-military options may help build the case for diplomacy within the White House.

Vancouver meeting will help boost case for diplomacy within the Trump administration, source says

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will co-host a meeting on Tuesday to discuss diplomatic solutions to the North Korean crisis. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

When more than a dozen foreign ministers meet in Vancouver next week to discuss diplomacy and North Korea, Kim Jong-un won't be the only target of their messaging.

A robust international show of support for non-military options is also aimed at the White House — even though the United States is co-host of the meeting, a source with direct knowledge of the preparations for the ministerial meeting told CBC News.

A united front in favour of a meaningful diplomatic option may help U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson build his case for diplomacy against hawkish elements within the Trump administration, the source said.

Canada and the United States are co-hosting the one-day summit Tuesday to discuss ways to ease the escalating tensions and rhetoric.

"I think that Donald Trump and some other members of the U.S. administration will be part of the audience for this meeting," said Roland Paris, a former foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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"Whether they register the message is a different question," he added.

Paris said it is obvious there are different factions within the Trump administration that represent a range of positions on North Korea.

"Rex Tillerson has been advocating for a diplomatic approach to this crisis, that is a point of view that Canada shares, and so the purpose of this meeting is to talk about economic and diplomatic ways of getting North Korea to the table," Paris said.

"I think it's the main purpose of this meeting," said Shin Maeng-ho, South Korea's Ambassador to Canada, who is attending the meeting. 

During an interview on CBC's The House with guest host Alison Crawford, Shin added: "I think diplomacy is the only option left to us. War on the Korean peninsula means death of millions of people."

"All foreign ministers in Vancouver will seek all the ways and means for diplomatic solution," Shin said.

Diplomatic push back

Tillerson has been public in his support of reopening talks with the North Korean regime, but his efforts were embarrassingly rebuffed by the White House.

In December, Tillerson offered to open up a dialogue without preconditions, saying "let's just meet, and we can talk about the weather if you want."

Donald Trump has said he is open to diplomatic talks with North Korea "at the appropriate time and under the right circumstances," according to the White House. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

The White House quickly shot down the proposal, saying it was not ready to start communications with North Korea because of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons tests.

Tillerson tried to downplay any difference between himself and the White House during a recent visit to Ottawa. 

"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 told reporters last month.

This past week, Trump indicated he is open to diplomatic talks, but "at the appropriate time and under the right circumstances," according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

Olympic delegation

Trump has been direct in his criticism of North Korea, threatening to unleash "fire and fury like the world has never seen," over its weapons development.

The president has also repeatedly referred to Kim Jong-un as "little rocket man."

The head of the North Korea's delegation, Ri Son Gwon, shakes hands with his South Korean counterpart, Cho Myoung-gyon, after their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas on Jan. 9. (Reuters)

Tuesday's meeting will come a week after the first conversation in two years between officials from North Korea and South Korea.

Talks this week at a neutral location in the demilitarized zone between the two countries lasted for 11 hours, with both sides agreeing to allow the North to send a delegation of athletes to the Pyeongchang Olympics next month.


Katie Simpson is a foreign correspondent with CBC News based in Washington. Prior to joining the team in D.C. she spent six years covering Parliament Hill in Ottawa and nearly a decade covering local and provincial issues in Toronto.

With files from Alison Crawford and Murray Brewster