Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, co-hosting the Vancouver event with Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland, called for North Korean ships to be intercepted and for new punitive measures to be implemented every time Pyongyang tests new weapons.
He received tough backing from his Japanese counterpart Taro Kono in public opening remarks, but South Korea’s Kang Kyung-Wha sounded a more cautious note and told the 20 senior envoys sanctions pressure is already making progress.
“First, we all must insist a full enforcement of UN Security Council sanctions as this is the letter of the law. We especially urge Russia and China in this matter,” Tillerson said.
“Second, we all must work together to improve maritime interdiction operations. We must put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine UN sanctions.
“And, third, there must be new consequences for the regime whenever new aggression occurs.”
The tough US stance comes as some have welcomed North Korea’s decision to meet with Seoul’s representatives and to send a delegation to the South’s upcoming Winter Olympics as a sign that tensions may be lowered.
But Kono urged the allies not to let their guard down as they seek to force Pyongyang to agree to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.
Without mentioning South Korea by name, Kono warned that Kim Jong-Un’s regime “must be intending to drive a wedge between those tough countries and those that are not so tough.”
“I am aware that some people argue that because North Korea is engaging in inter-Korean dialogue we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance,” he said.
“Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear missile programs,” he said.
For her part, Kang welcomed the international solidarity behind the sanctions regime, but her opening remarks in Tuesday’s session carried a more optimistic message than that of her Japanese neighbor.
“I believe that the two tools, tough sanctions and pressure on the one hand and the offer of a different brighter future on the other, have worked hand in hand,” she said.
“Indeed the concerted efforts of the international community has begun to bear fruit,” she explained.
“We should take note that the North has come back to inter-Korean dialogue for its participation in the Winter Games, as evidence and observations accumulate to show that sanctions and pressure are beginning to take effect.”