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Representatives from 20 countries meet to discuss security on the Korean Peninsula in Vancouver on Tuesday.   © Reuters
International relations

Twenty nations accept stricter North Korea maritime checks

Japan warns of Pyongyang 'buying time' with inter-Korean dialogue

VANCOUVER, Canada/WASHINGTON -- Top diplomats from 20 countries on Tuesday agreed to enforce more rigorous inspections of vessels at sea to prevent smuggling into North Korea, the U.S. and Canada said in a joint statement.

The representatives, including U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, had gathered for a one-day meeting in Vancouver to discuss security on the Korean Peninsula.

The participants agreed to "consider and take steps to impose unilateral sanctions and further diplomatic actions that go beyond those required by United Nations Security Council resolutions," the statement said. 

They also agreed to support resumed dialogue between North and South Korea, in the hope that the talks will lead to a "sustained easing of tensions." 

Formal talks between the two have recently been held for the first time in more than two years, triggered by next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea -- a move that will "hopefully make the war avoidable," according to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Tillerson, who co-hosted the meeting along with his Canadian counterpart, said that the U.S. plans to maintain and lead the "maximum-pressure campaign" on the Kim Jong Un regime. He called on other countries to crack down on smuggling conducted in international waters to evade U.N. sanctions.

"We all must insist on a full enforcement of U.N. Security Council sanctions, as this is the letter of law. We especially urge Russia and China in this matter," Tillerson said.

Many believe China and Russia, both of which have close economic ties with North Korea, are involved in oil shipments to the country. Neither had sent representatives on Tuesday, calling into question the meeting's effectiveness.

With a number of European and Southeast Asian countries present, Tillerson was at pains to emphasize that Washington sees the issue as "a global problem requiring a global solution."

The U.S. secretary of state displayed a radar map of international flights around the Korean Peninsula during one of Pyongyang's recent missile tests. He mentioned that passengers on a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong had witnessed one launch in November, and stated that such "recklessness" could potentially "result in disaster."

Kono argued that Pyongyang was trying to "buy time for its nuclear and missile programs" by resuming dialogue with Seoul. He insisted that pressure on the regime needs to be maintained.

The Japanese foreign minister urged other countries not to forget that Pyongyang had relentlessly pursued its weapons program and warned that the world "should not to be blinded by North Korea's charm offensive."

"The international community should unite behind the goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he said.

Kono also attended a separate meeting with his South Korean counterpart at which he rejected a request for the Japanese government to take additional action over the issue of wartime "comfort women."

According to Japan's foreign ministry, Kono told Kang that Tokyo "absolutely cannot accept South Korea's request," and urged Seoul to ensure steady implementation of the 2015 bilateral agreement regarding the issue.

That agreement, which saw Japan apologize to the victims and pay 1 billion yen ($8.9 million), is seen as "final and irreversible" by Tokyo. Seoul, on the other hand, attached a new policy to the accord earlier this month requesting further action from Japan.

Tillerson told reporters on Tuesday, "Our role has been simply to encourage [Japan and South Korea] to deal with the issue, to not let that issue stand in the way of the greater security threats that are common to all of us."

Nikkei staff writer Tomomi Kikuchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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