Midweek podcast: North Korea meeting missed the mark, says former diplomat

On The House midweek podcast, Chris Hall talks to retired Canadian diplomat James Trottier about why he thinks excluding key players like China and Russia limited the effectiveness of this week's North Korea meeting in Vancouver. We also talk to the CBC's Don Pittis about the Bank of Canada's decision to raise its key lending rate by a quarter percentage point to 1.25 per cent.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland gestures to photographers following a photo op with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ottawa last week. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)
Listen to the full episode32:58

A former Canadian diplomat says this week's summit in Vancouver discussing North Korea missed the mark.

Imposing new sanctions on North Korea and excluding key players like China and Russia limited the effectiveness of the meeting, James Trottier, who led diplomatic delegations to North Korea in 2015 and 2016, told CBC Radio's The House.

Delegates from the two countries were not invited to the meeting, but were promised separate briefings once the talks had concluded.

Both nations rejected the offer.

"At best, it suggests that the organizers were more interested in filling the seats," Trottier said.

"At worst, it suggests that the organizers wanted a passive audience ready to go along with U.S. demands rather than an audience that would challenge them."

Canada supported the U.S. by agreeing look at tightening sanctions further on North Korea, but Trottier said he would have preferred to see an approach similar to South Korea's — communicating directly with North Korean officials rather than talking around them.

Backing the U.S. plan places Canada in "an echo chamber of the like-minded," Trottier said.

North Korea has typically seen Canada as distinct from its southern neighbour, he added, but the Vancouver summit likely hurt that perception.

Diplomacy takes a backseat

In the weeks leading up to the meeting, the word "diplomacy" was thrown out often.

"Canada is really prepared to do everything we can to work towards a peaceful diplomatic solution," Chrystia Freeland told CBC's The Weekly with Wendy Mesley on Sunday.

However, as talks ensued and new sanctions were floated, Trottier said there was not much in the way of the diplomatic efforts promised by Freeland.

He summarized the convention by calling it the "Wrong meeting, wrong countries and [a] lost opportunity."

Canada didn't play its cards right, Trottier concluded, as they doubled down on sanctions instead of using the summit as an opportunity to search for alternative solutions to North Korea's nuclear strategy.

However, the talks weren't a total disaster in his eyes.

"Canada is engaged again on the North Korea file, so I think that's positive."

Moving forward, Trottier said he would like to see Canada stop "hindering" relations with the country. He recommends renewing diplomatic ties with North Korea.

"We should use those communications to better understand the North Korean concerns and communicate these where it is helpful to our friends and allies," he said.

On The House midweek podcast, Chris Hall talks to retired Canadian diplomat James Trottier about why he thinks excluding key players like China and Russia limited the effectiveness of this week's North Korea meeting in Vancouver. We also talk to the CBC's Don Pittis about the Bank of Canada's decision to raise its key lending rate by a quarter percentage point to 1.25 per cent. 32:58