US rallies allies to consider tougher N. Korea sanctions

South Koreans rallying against US policy towards North Korea near the US Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday. They demanded peace talks between the US and North Korea, ahead of the latter's participation in the Winter Olympics.
South Koreans rallying against US policy towards North Korea near the US Embassy in Seoul on Tuesday. They demanded peace talks between the US and North Korea, ahead of the latter's participation in the Winter Olympics.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

These include naval operations to intercept illicit shipments; US warns of military option

VANCOUVER • Twenty nations have agreed to consider tougher sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Pyongyang it could trigger a military response if it did not choose negotiations.

Among the steps discussed were naval security operations to prevent maritime smuggling.

Mr Tillerson said it was time for the North Koreans to agree to talks on their nuclear and weapons programmes. "We have to recognise that the threat is growing and if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion (and) negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option," he told reporters on Tuesday night, shortly before the two Koreas held talks over Pyongyang's participation in next month's Winter Olympic Games in the South.

"We are at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken its programme," he said.

"Our approach, in terms of having North Korea choose the correct step, is to present them with what is the best option - talks are the best option; that when they look at the military situation, that is not a good outcome for them. It is time to talk, but they have to take the step to say they want to talk."

The one-day meeting on Tuesday of countries that backed South Korea during the 1950-1953 Korea War vowed to support renewed dialogue between the two Koreas "in hopes that it leads to sustained easing of tensions", and agreed that a diplomatic solution to the crisis is both essential and possible.

The participants said in a joint statement they 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". They gave no details.

The warning of robust new tactics to intercept illicit shipments of nuclear materials or sanctions-busting imports was the most concrete measure to come out of the talks.

United States officials have reported a debate within the Trump administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site.

Mr Tillerson brushed off a question about such a "bloody nose" strike, telling a closing news conference: "I am not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the President."

Mr Tillerson said the meeting had agreed that China and Russia, which did not attend the Vancouver talks and sharply criticised the meeting, must fully implement UN sanctions.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said yesterday Canada and the US were demonstrating a "Cold War mentality" that would divide the international community and damage chances of an appropriate settlement on the peninsula.

Some observers noted a stark difference in tone between the hawkish Japanese envoy and his South Korean counterpart.

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Kono said the world should not be naive about North Korea's "charm offensive" in engaging in talks with the South, while South Korea's Foreign Minister Kang Kyung Wha said recent inter-Korea talks were a sign that sanctions were already working.

As the Vancouver talks got under way, Pyongyang responded to US President Donald Trump's recent Twitter warning that his nuclear arsenal dwarfs the North's fledgling missile batteries.

Official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun dismissed Mr Trump's "swaggering" as the "spasm of a lunatic" frightened by North Korea's power and the "bark of a rabid dog".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2018, with the headline 'US rallies allies to consider tougher N. Korea sanctions'. Print Edition | Subscribe