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20 countries vow tougher sanctions on North Korea

Despite ongoing inter-Korean talks, 20 nations including South Korea and the US agreed Wednesday to beef up sanctions on North Korea to pressure the country to give up its nuclear and missile programs during a meeting in Vancouver.

Foreign ministers from the 20 countries also vowed to support ongoing dialogue between the two Koreas “in hopes that it leads to sustained easing of tensions” and “diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea” during the meeting co-hosted by the US and Canada.

But the countries warned against the North’s peace offensive, calling for “unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang that go beyond those required by UN Security Council resolutions” in a joint statement.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (left) listens as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the first session of the summit on security and stability on the Korean Peninsula held in Vancouver, Canada, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha (left) listens as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the first session of the summit on security and stability on the Korean Peninsula held in Vancouver, Canada, Tuesday. (Yonhap)
The statement came after foreign ministers from 20 countries that fought on the South’s side in the 1950-1953 Korean War gathered for a one-day meeting in Vancouver, Canada, to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

The countries agreed to counter North Korea’s maritime smuggling in accordance with relevant UN Security Council resolutions, including measures to improve maritime interdiction operations to stop its illegal use of “ship-to-ship transfers.”

The latest UN Security Council resolution, adopted in December in response to the North’s inter-continental ballistic missile test, calls on member states to impound vessels in their ports if there are reasonable grounds to suspect illicit trade with North Korea.

Despite the increasing sanctions, North Korea has been accused of seeking to evade the bans by transferring supplies from foreign vessels to its own on the high seas. For the past two years, it has rapidly advanced its nuclear and missile programs.

The 20-nation meeting took place as the two Koreas were holding talks in more than two years. The two Koreas held a third meeting Wednesday to hammer out details of the North’s plan to attend the PyeongChang Winter Olympics to be held next month in the South.

With North Korea yet to show any signs of giving up its nuclear and missile programs, South Korea has said that the inter-Korean talks on the North’s participation in the Winter Games are to pave the way for broader dialogue for denuclearization of the North.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said the country seeks to “engage the North before, during and perhaps beyond PyeongChang” and the inter-Korean talks are the result of sanctions on the country.

“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 effort of the international community has begun to bear fruit.”

However, there has been cautious skepticism that North Korea seeks to use the inter-Korean dialogue and its participation in the Olympics to ease international sanctions on the reclusive regime.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono noted in his opening remarks that the North “wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs.” “In short, it is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea,” he said, calling for a “maximum pressure” campaign.

The US echoed his remarks, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying that the allies “must increase the cost of the regime’s behavior to the point that North Korea comes to the table for credible negotiations.”

At a press conference following the meeting, Tillerson said that the North has yet to show itself to be a “credible negotiating partner” and warned Pyongyang it could trigger an “option” if it does not choose negotiations.

China and Russia, the North’s biggest allies and trading partners, were not invited to attend the summit, raising questions about the effectiveness of such sanctions.

The two countries, which fought on the communist side in the Korean War, strongly opposed the meeting, with China dismissing the summit as the US’ “Cold War mentality.”

The US insisted the allies would remain united and continue to work with China and Russia to enforce UN-backed sanctions.

“Our unity and our common cause with others in the region, most particularly China and Russia, will remain intact despite North Korea’s frequent attempts to divide us and sow dissension,” Tillerson said.

The top diplomats of South Korea, the US and Japan also reaffirmed their shared goal of peacefully resolving North Korea’s nuclear problem during a trilateral meeting on the sidelines of the meeting in Vancouver, Seoul's Foreign Ministry said.

By Ock Hyun-ju (