VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson huddles Tuesday with nations that fought on America's side in the Korean War, looking to tighten the economic noose around North Korea over its nuclear weapons even as hopes rise for diplomacy.
The 20-nation gathering on Canada's western coast comes days after a mistaken missile alert caused panic on Hawaii, a stark reminder of the fears of conflict with the North after a year of escalating tension.
The meeting in Vancouver, hosted by Tillerson and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland, was called before the recent start of talks between North and South Korea, the first in two years. The North restored a military hotline and agreed to participate in the Winter Olympics being hosted in February by the South, a close U.S. ally.
President Donald Trump has also signaled openness to talks with North Korea under the right circumstances. Despite the insults and blood-curdling threats he's traded with its leader Kim Jong Un, he suggested in an interview that the two leaders could have a positive relationship.
But Kim, widely viewed as seeking to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, shows no sign of making concessions toward Washington as his totalitarian government comes close to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the United States.
The Vancouver meeting is intended to boost the campaign of “maximum pressure” that the Trump administration has championed to deprive the North of revenue for weapons development. Officials will discuss cooperation on sanctions, preventing the spread of weapons by North Korea, and diplomacy.
Brian Hook, Tillerson's senior policy adviser, said more needs to be done to interdict ships conducting illicit trade with North Korea. He said the U.S. wants the United Nations to mandate a port entry ban for such vessels.
The meeting is being attended by foreign ministers and senior diplomats of nations that sent troops or humanitarian aid to the U.N. Command that supported South Korea in the fight against the communist North and its allies during the 1950-53 Korean War. It's a diverse gathering of mostly European and Asian nations, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Columbia. Japan and South Korea are also taking part.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was to join a welcoming dinner for the delegates on Monday night.
China and Russia, which fought on the communist side in the war, oppose the meeting. They were not invited although they have the closest economic and diplomatic ties to North Korea.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that a meeting that “doesn't include important parties to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue” cannot help resolve it.
Hook said China and Russia would be briefed afterward, and said the inter-Korean talks won't change Tuesday's agenda.
“We believe that this pressure campaign remains the best avenue to force change in Kim Jong Un's behavior and to get him to the negotiating table for meaningful discussions,” he said.
The latest U.N. Security Council resolution against North Korea, adopted in December in response to an intercontinental ballistic missile test, calls on member states to impound vessels suspected of illicit trade with the North, and authorizes interdictions in a member state's territorial waters.
It also restricts North Korean imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products, and further cuts into its ability to raise revenue for its weapons programs. Combined with previous U.N resolutions, more than 90 percent of North Korea's publicly reported exports as of 2016 are now banned.
Tillerson told The Associated Press in a recent interview that convening the so-called “sending states” to the U.N. Command in the Korean War was done deliberately to show that diplomacy “has to be backed up by a strong military alternative.”
“It's just part of the necessity of impressing upon all parties the serious nature of this and the resolve of the United States and others that we are not going to accept a nuclear North Korea,” Tillerson said.
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