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Politics North Korea must cease threats for ‘sustained’ period before talks, U.S. says

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives at the summit of Western foreign ministers in Vancouver on Jan. 16, 2018.


U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says it is "time to talk" with North Korea about defusing tensions, but that Pyongyang must first stop its threatening behaviour for a sustained period of time.

At the conclusion of a one-day summit on Tuesday in Vancouver, Mr. Tillerson warned that the threat from North Korea is growing, and urged leader Kim Jung-un to sit down for serious negotiations. "We will never accept them as a nuclear power. It's time to talk," Mr. Tillerson said. "The North Koreans know our channels are open and they know where to find us but a sustained cessation of North Korea's threatening behaviour is necessary."

Foreign ministers, led by Canada and the United States, promised to keep squeezing North Korea economically and diplomatically until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear and ballistic weapons.

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The ministers issued a declaration saying the international community must never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, and called on Mr. Kim to begin serious denuclearization negotiations.

"We cannot stand by as this threat persists and worsens," Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told a wrap-up news conference alongside Mr. Tillerson. "We must work together to ensure that sanctions imposed on North Korea are strictly enforced."

The Vancouver summit of 20 countries that were involved in the 1950-1953 Korean War was called to explore ways to tighten economic sanctions against North Korea and discuss maritime interdiction of ships carrying material to and from the country.

But Mr. Tillerson said Washington will not ask Canada or any of other nations to block ships carrying embargoed goods. The focus should be on preventing ships from leaving ports of call with smuggled goods and illicit ship-to-ship transfers, he said. Mr. Tillerson declined to comment on whether the United States is considering a pre-emptive attack on North Korea, the so-called "bloody nose" option, saying he would not make any remarks on issues on which President Donald Trump has not decided.

The secretary declined comment on whether Mr. Trump has communicated directly with Mr. Kim.

Ms. Freeland brushed aside a question about Mr. Trump's angry tweets at North Korea's dictator, in which he called Mr. Kim "rocket man" and bragged he has a bigger nuclear button.

"It is North Korea's actions that are making us all less safe," she said. "We don't want to be, in any way, Pollyannas about this." Ms. Freeland said she believes sanctions on North Korea are having an impact, citing the country's decision to participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next month.

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Ms. Freeland announced $3.2-million to help countries more effectively implement UN sanctions against North Korea.

China and Russia, which sit on the UN Security Council and are North Korea's neighbours, have backed successive rounds of UN sanctions, but called the Vancouver meeting an example of "Cold War" thinking.

China's state-run Global Times newspaper said the Vancouver meeting reflected Washington's desire to "highlight its dominant role in resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and cripple the clout of China and Russia."

Mr. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke by telephone on Monday and both expressed hope that recent talks between North and South Korea could open the door to denuclearization talks.

But the White House said in a statement that Mr. Trump made it clear that the United States is determined to tighten sanctions enforcement on North Korea until it agrees to comprehensive negotiations.

"President Trump committed to sustain the United States-led global campaign of maximum pressure to compel North Korea to commit to denuclearization," the White House said.

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China's special envoy for North Korea, Kong Xuanyou, urged the United States to seize the opportunity to seek direct talks with North Korea.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the high-level talks between the North and South have "been productive and positive" at lowering tensions, which she attributed to UN sanctions.

But Ms. Kang cautioned the Korean talks have not lead to a change in Mr. Kim's ambitions to make his country a global nuclear threat.

"Despite these overtures to improve relations with the South, North Korea has yet to show any intention to fulfill its international obligations regarding denuclearization," Ms. Kang said. "And [it] now boasts that its ballistic missiles, tipped with nuclear warheads, can strike anywhere in the United States."

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the North Koreans can't be trusted and it would be wrong to let up on sanctions.

"I am aware that some people argue that now that North Korea is engaging in inter-Korea dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance," Mr. Kono told the opening session. "Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear program."

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Ms. Freeland stressed the West does not want regime change or the collapse of the North Korean regime. She offered the prospect of greater prosperity for North Koreans if Mr. Kim gave up his weapons program.

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