Opening Remarks by Secretary Tillerson at the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula

Remarks With Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson At the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting On Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula

Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State

Vancouver Convention Centre
Vancouver, Canada
January 16, 2018

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: So what we’re going to do now just so everybody knows, we’ll have some brief opening remarks open to the press from me, Rex, Minister Kono, Minister Kang, and Boris. And then we will bid our journalistic pals farewell. For me and Boris that’s a particular sadness, as we used to be members of the press ourselves. And then we will proceed to our deliberations.PARTICIPANT: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: So Your Excellencies, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us here in Vancouver. I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish people including the territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh Nations, as Deanna has reminded us.

The North Korean nuclear crisis is one of the greatest threats the world is facing today, and it is what brings us here to Vancouver. Let me extend a special welcome to Minister Kang of the Republic of Korea and to Minister Kono of Japan. The people of your countries are most directly affected by instability on the Korean Peninsula.

I’d also like to welcome U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, my friend. Thank you, Rex. We are truly honored to cohost these talks with our American neighbors.

(In French.)

Canada is determined to work for peace and security in the Asia Pacific, to strengthen the rules-based international order that preserves peace and security for us all. The ties between Canadians and Koreans have been forged both in times of conflict and peace for more than a century. In fact, more than 206,000 Koreans or people of Korean descent now live in Canada. Ours is one of the largest Korean diaspora communities in the world. And in fact, I am proud that many of these Korean Canadians live in the riding that I have the honor of representing, University-Rosedale in Toronto, which is where Toronto’s Koreatown is found.

These ties only increase our firm desire to avoid a devastating conflict on the peninsula. We welcome last week’s agreement between North and South Korea to hold military-to-military discussions and for North Korea to participate in the Winter Olympics next month. These are encouraging signals.

But let me be clear: No true progress can be made in addressing instability in the Korean Peninsula until North Korea commits to changing course and verifiably and irreversibly abandoning all of its weapons of mass destruction. Like all of you, we in Canada understand that in these extraordinary times it is vital that we come together as neighbors, friends, partners, and allies to confront threats of aggression. Nowhere in the world do we see the proliferation of weapons and materials of mass destruction on the scale of North Korea’s program. We cannot stand by and let this threat persist. At stake are the safety and security of all the people of the world.

We therefore gather here to work together for peace in the Korean Peninsula and to demonstrate our unity and our resolve. As a global community, we have shown in both word and deed that we will not accept North Korea as a nuclear threat to the world. To this end, the UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on North Korea. The 20 nations here in Vancouver must work to make sure these measures are fully and faithfully implemented, and we must use this meeting – and I’m confident that we will – to hone their effectiveness.

Sanctions, however, are not an end in and of themselves. They are important tools of diplomacy aimed at bringing North Korea to the table and setting out the diplomatic path to a peace that we all seek. Our message to the people of North Korea is clear: Despite the brutal hardships that you face, we know that the foremost threat is the regime of North Korea.

To North Korea’s leadership our message is also clear: The pursuit of nuclearization will bring you neither security nor prosperity. Investing in nuclear weapons will lead only to more sanctions and to perpetual instability on the peninsula.

The states represented at this meeting harbor no hostility to North Korea. On the contrary, we seek neither a regime change nor a collapse. We are working to resolve this crisis and are aiming for what is in our collective best interest: security and stability on the Korean Peninsula and throughout the world. We know this to be true: A decision by the North Korean regime to verifiably abandon all of its weapons of mass destruction will contribute to North Korea’s security and economic development, leading to a better, brighter, safer, and more prosperous future for the North Korean people. It is now up to North Korea to choose the future it wants for itself.

As Lester B. Pearson, a great Canadian foreign minister and prime minister, said when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize just 60 years ago, “Of all our dreams today, there is none more important or so hard to realize than that of peace in the world. May we never lose our faith in it or our resolve to do everything that can be done to convert it one day into reality.”

Despite the immense challenges that the world faces today, let us never lose sight of this dream, and let’s endeavor to do all we can today in these meetings to live up to Pearson’s words. Thank you. And once again, colleagues, welcome. I’m looking forward to our conversations.

Okay, and I’m now going to turn it over to Rex. Please.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first let me thank Foreign Minister Freeland for agreeing to cohost this event, and also thanks to Canada for allowing us to meet in Vancouver as well. North Korea is just one of many security issues of which the United States knows we can rely on our neighbor and friend, Canada, for close alignment. I also want to recognize Foreign Minister Kang, the Republic of Korea’s Foreign Minister Kono, and thank them for joining us as well. As allies, their nations have been at the center of the maximum pressure campaign against the DPRK, and our lockstep coordination with them will continue. The United States extends its appreciation to all nations here for their efforts to date in the pressure campaign.

This assembly of representative countries of the original UN Command sending states are all represented by foreign ministers and diplomats. These are nations that answered the call almost or about 60 years ago to fight for freedom on the Korean Peninsula, to ensure freedom would be preserved on the Korean Peninsula, and through great sacrifice secured freedom on the Korean Peninsula for the people of the Republic of Korea. And while that conflict remains frozen in time with an armistice, all of these nations have never lost their interest in ensuring freedom is maintained on the peninsula.

And I think as President Trump highlighted so well in his remarks to the Republic of Korea’s General Assembly in November, the differences between freedom and democracy for the people of the Republic of Korea is striking when compared to the conditions of life for the people who live under the tyranny of the regime in North Korea. And it is only a threat of this nature, a serious nuclear weapons threat, that would unite what were once enemies – the sending states with China – in a common goal to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. And the sending states stand shoulder-to-shoulder with China, with the Republic of Korea, with Japan, with Russia, and is now joined by the entire international community in saying to the regime in North Korea we cannot and will not accept you as a nuclear state.

It has been nearly one year since the United States in concert with our allies and partners initiated the global campaign to maximize pressure against North Korea. As it was in the beginning, the great goal of the pressure campaign is to cut off the sources of funding that the DPRK uses to finance its illegal nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Additionally, we must increase the cost of the regime’s behavior to the point that North Korea comes to the table for credible negotiations.

The object of negotiations, if and when we get there, is the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea. All nations here today are united on that goal. Let me clear: We will not allow North Korea to drive a wedge through our resolve or our solidarity. We reject a “freeze-for-freeze” approach in which legitimate defensive military exercises are placed on the same level of equivalency as the DPRK’s unlawful actions.

The pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes decisive steps to denuclearize. This is a strategy that has and will require patience, but thanks to everyone’s support at this table and around the world, the regime is already facing costs that it is having difficulty bearing. The purpose of our meetings today is to improve the effectiveness of the maximum pressure campaign and combat North Korea’s attempts to evade sanctions. The United States looks forward to hearing from all participants on how we can best do that.

Today the United States is encouraged by the steps that nations around the world have already taken. In 2017, the UN Security Council passed three unanimous resolutions, levying the toughest-ever sanctions on North Korea. And nations around the world have taken their own unilateral actions, such as expelling North Korean laborers, closing North Korean embassies, and banning the importation of North Korean goods. The United States commends those nations for taking these actions.

This progress is encouraging, but we cannot be complacent. Kim Jong-un’s regime continues to threaten international peace and security through unlawful ballistic missile and nuclear tests. I ask you to take a look at a map behind me, and this is to make the point of the equivalency of military – defensive military exercises and their irresponsible testing. The map is a snapchat of air traffic in Asia on the morning of Friday, January the 12th – a rather ordinary day. Each plane icon represents a plane passing through the region, and as you can see, a lot of activity is in the skies each day.

The potential for a North Korean missile or parts of it to affect civilian aircraft is real. On November 28th, individuals on the flight traveling from San Francisco to Hong Kong witnessed with their own eyes parts of the North Korea ICBM test flying through the sky. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the flight was 280 nautical miles from point of impact, and at the time there were nine other flights within that range. Over the course of that day, according to the Department of Defense, an estimated 716 flights were due to pass within that range. The FAA says the total available seats on those 716 flights were 152,110. That’s a lot of people from a lot of countries being put at risk by an irresponsible testing of ballistic missiles.

My point is this: North Korea’s willingness to launch missiles at any time presents a threat to people of all nationalities in the region’s air space each day. Based on its past recklessness, we cannot expect North Korea to have any regard for what might get in the way of one of its missiles or part of a missile breaking apart. This is to say nothing of potential technological errors associated with a launch that could result in disaster.

Of course, this is hardly the only threat or likeliest threat posed by North Korean missiles. Twice last year, North Korea launched missiles over Japan, which could have fallen on population centers. The North Korean threat has many dimensions, all of which must be countered. The regime has shown a recklessness among the nations of the world. Based on its actions now, we can see what North Korea may very well do later if it obtains complete nuclear and missile delivery capabilities.

When we consider the DPRK has avowed strikes on civilian targets, that Oslo is nearer to Pyongyang than Seattle, that London is nearer to North Korea than Los Angeles, that Amsterdam, Ankara, Brussels, Beijing, Paris, and Moscow are nearer than New York City, we see a global problem requiring a global solution. In light of North Korea’s steep trajectory of regression, we must implement a permanent and peaceful solution to avert a future crisis. North Korea’s provocations have been and continue to be met with clear and substantial consequences, as are appropriate.

First, we all must insist a full enforcement of UN Security Council sanctions, as this is the letter of the law. We especially urge Russia and China in this matter. Full implementation is an essential measure for the security of their people and a clear indication of their willingness to honor their international commitments. We cannot abide lapses or sanctions evasions. We will continue to call attention to and designate entities and individuals complicit in such evasive actions.

Second, we all must work together to improve maritime interdiction operations. We must put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine UN sanctions. And third, there must be new consequences for the regime whenever new aggression occurs.

We recognize that no one action or resolution will compel North Korea to give up its nuclear program, but if all countries cut off or significantly limit their economic and diplomatic engagements with North Korea, the sum total of our individual national efforts will increase the chances of a negotiated resolution. Our nations desire a future for North Korea, but the ultimate responsibility for producing that new future lies with North Korea. Only by abandoning its current path can North Korea achieve the security and stability it desires and a prosperous future for its people.

On behalf of the United States, I look forward to sharing ideas today with our allies and partners to strengthen the maximum pressure campaign and provide a pathway to security for all of our people as a result. Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: Okay. Thank you very much, Rex, and thank you for bringing visual aids. We really appreciate that, and thank you very much for cohosting this and all the work you’re doing. And next we’re going to hear from Minister Taro Kono of Japan. As Rex has pointed out, Japan is very directly implicated, and we’re honored that you’re here with us today, Minister.

FOREIGN MINISTER KONO: Madam Chairperson, Mr. Chairperson, honorable ministers, distinguished delegates, let me begin by expressing my deep appreciation once again to Foreign Minister Freeland and Secretary Tillerson for their untiring efforts to gather all of us at today’s meeting. I am also grateful for their generosity to allow me to speak following their remarks.

As we have all witnessed, North Korea has been escalating its outrageous act of provocation. The international community must counter in unison the grave and imminent threat posed by North Korea. Last month the United Nations Security Council briefing was convened under my presidency, and it was made crystal clear in the briefing that a nuclear-armed North Korea will never be accepted. Against this backdrop, today’s meeting is very timely and meaningful. The international community will once again gather strength in order to materialize North Korea’s denuclearization. Today, I would like to start with how I see the current situation as well as North Korea’s intention, and also like to touch upon some thoughts on the way forward.

First, my observation on the current situation on the peninsula: As was expressed by Prime Minister Abe, my government welcomes the recent talks between South and North Koreas with regard to the latter’s participation to the PyeongChang Olympic. After all, the Olympic and Paralympic Games are peaceful festivals. And we all support the ROK Government’s effort to make these events successful.

That being said, we should not avert our eyes from the fact that North Korea relentlessly continues its nuclear and missile programs. I am aware that some people argue that now that North Korea is engaging in inter-Korean dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance. Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs. They simply want to get something out of this dialogue. I would, therefore, argue that this recognition should be the starting point of today’s discussion.

Secondly, we should judge its intention in terms of what they are actually doing, not in terms of what we hope they are doing. How should we interpret North Korea’s willingness toward dialogue and its continued obsession with the nuclear and missile programs? Number one, they must be hoping to get sanction lifted by some countries. Number two, they must be attempting to obtain some financial assistance in whatever form, exploiting the goodwill of others. Number three, they must also be hoping that the military exercise between the United States and the ROK militaries be canceled. Number four, they must be intending to drive a wedge between those tough countries and those that are not so tough. In addition, if the inter-Korean dialogue does not advance as North Korea wishes, North Korea may blame others and use it as a pretext to conduct further provocative and dangerous actions.

In any case, what we should have in mind is that North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs even as we speak and we should not be naive about their intent, nor should we be blinded by North Korea’s charm offensive. In short, it is not the time to ease pressure or to reward North Korea.

My last point comes from my earlier observation, namely to uphold the maximum pressure campaign. International sanctions have gradually borne fruits. The increasing number of ship-to-ship transfer is a testament that the current sanction regime is finally biting. It is also likely that sanctions will reproduce even further result this year. The fact that North Korea is engaging in dialogue could be interpreted as proof that the sanctions are working. I would therefore argue that now is the time for all the country to renew their determination to implement relevant Security Council resolutions fully and rigorously, reinforcing autonomous measures when and where available. This could include cutting off diplomatic ties with North Korea, as well as repatriating North Korean workers. Only through these measures can we make North Korea change a policy. In this regard, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan has just decided to cut its diplomatic ties with North Korea. Japan highly appreciate Jordan’s initiative and expects other countries to follow the same path and take further actions.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this year started with North Korea’s move towards inter-Korean dialogue. However, there has not been any positive move in terms of resolving the nuclear missile programs, as well as the abductions issue. Today’s foreign ministers’ meeting provides a timely opportunity to demonstrate an unwavering commitment of the international community to achieve complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to stop North Korea’s other provocations. Together we should continue to maximize pressure on North Korea and corner North Korea in order to change its policy towards denuclearization.

Thank you very much. Thank you, Chairman.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: Well, thank you very much, Minister Kono. Thank you for your wise words and for your commitment to this effort. And next we are going to hear from Minister Kang. We’ve all been talking about the common threat that we face and I think we all need to acknowledge that no country has a greater interest in this matter than our friends and allies in South Korea. So Minister Kang, we’re delighted you’re here.

FOREIGN MINISTER KANG: Thank you very much, Chrystia. Thank you. Minister Freeland, Secretary Tillerson, colleagues, friends, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to thank you, our two cohosts, for your very hard work and meticulous arrangements in bringing this group together, and thank you for your support. With the rapid pace of recent developments on the Korean Peninsula, today’s meeting could not be more opportune. As you know, South and North Korea have jumpstarted talks this year after several years of hiatus, and despite the long absence, I have to report that the dialogue has been rather productive and positive.

At the high-level talks on January 9th, the two sides agree to cooperate for North Korea’s participation in the in the PyeongChang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, work together to lower tension and create a peaceful environment on the Korean Peninsula, and resolve all issues between the two sides through dialogue. This is no doubt an important development for the PyeongChang games as well as a significant first step towards restoring inter-Korean relations, which have been frozen for many years. And we hope to build on this initial breakthrough to ease tension in the region and forge favorable conditions for a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue, as well as the establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Colleagues and friends, excellencies, despite these overtures to improve relations with the South, North Korea has yet to show any intention to fulfill its international obligations regarding denuclearization. To the contrary, North Korea adheres to its stated claim of having completed its state nuclear force, and now boasts that its ballistic missiles tipped with nuclear warheads can strike anywhere in the United States. Indeed, the security threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear and missiles program is no longer confined to Northeast Asia but has become truly global. In response, the international community has been working closely together to underscore the point that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are not acceptable and that it must return to the path of denuclearization. And thus, in the latter half of 2017 alone, three more UN Security Council resolutions were passed unanimously with incrementally stronger sanctions, and many member-states are implementing unilateral measures to put additional pressure on North Korea.

The Republic of Korea is working closely with key partners and the international community as a whole to implement the Security Council sanctions so as to compel North Korea to change course and to come to the table for denuclearization talks. And to this end, ensuring the faithful implementation of the UN Security Council sanctions by all members of the United Nations and enhancing their effectiveness is crucial. My government is actively participating in these efforts by faithfully implementing the sanctions as well as sharing information and the best practices with concerned partners.

We have urged North Korea to stop the provocations and return to dialogue, and made it clear through action that its continued provocations will only be met with further sanctions and pressure. At the same time, President Moon Jae-in and many other leaders have repeatedly made the point in public statements as well as in messages delivered to the North that we stand ready to provide a brighter future for North Korea if it makes the right choice. And I believe the two tools, these two tools – tough sanctions and pressure on the one hand and the offer of a different, brighter future on the other – has worked hand in hand. Indeed, the concerted efforts of the international community has begun to bear fruit. We should take note that the North has come back to inter-Korean dialogue for its participation in the Winter Games as evidence and observations accumulate to show that sanctions and pressure are beginning to take effect.

Ladies and gentlemen, while we endeavor to make the most of the new, opening in inter-Korean dialogue, we are well aware that sustained improvements in inter-Korean relations cannot take place without advances in efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and vice versa. The two tracks must be pursued in complementarity. Denuclearization is a fundamental element of a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Thus, as we endeavor to engage the North before, during, and perhaps beyond PyeongChang, we do so in clear sight of the denuclearization imperative.

The complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea remains the unwavering goal of the Korean Government and the international community. And as long as North Korea continues down the path of nuclear development, sanctions will remain in place and Korea will continue to work closely with the international community to force a change of course on North Korea. The fundamental resolution of the Korean Peninsula-related issues cannot be achieved without the denuclearization of North Korea, and we will continue to seek realistic and effective ways to resume denuclearization talks at the earliest possible date.

Friends and colleagues, almost 70 years ago, members of the international community sent troops and humanitarian aid to help defend a fledgling democracy in the southern half of the Korean Peninsula. We, the Korean people, will never forget the noble sacrifices made by the men and women of the countries represented here. And the best expression of our gratitude is being able to show the veterans, their families, and countrymen the good that has resulted from their service and sacrifice. This small nation utterly destroyed by the war has worked very hard and has become a beacon of freedom, democracy, and economic vitality in Northeast Asia and beyond. But we will not rest until we achieve the ultimate prize for their sacrifice – that is, lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

Friends and esteemed colleagues, the PyeongChang Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games are now less than a month away. North Korea’s participation has created much additional work for us in the preparations, but we are working assiduously to ensure that their participation adds to the enjoyment and celebration of the games by all: athletes, officials, spectators, and cheering crowds alike. It will surely be a rare opportunity for the North Korean participants to interact with the international sporting community, and we hope the momentum for engagement will continue well beyond PyeongChang.

We ask for your support in these endeavors and hope that we can stand united in getting North Korea to change course and pursuing the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue and the establishment of lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Our meeting today is a timely demonstration of the solidarity of the international community on this matter, and I very much look forward to our constructive discussions today. Thank you very much.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: Well, thank you very much, Minister Kang, for those inspiring remarks. And as you said, I think all of our countries were proud to support your country 70 years ago, and one of the reasons that we’re out here today is to show our solidarity with you and with South Korea.

Many of us have alluded to and all of us are working to support the UN Security Council resolutions, and for that reason as well as many others, I would like to invite our friend, ally, and partner, the United Kingdom, and its foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, to make a few remarks.

FOREIGN SECRETARY JOHNSON: Thank you. Thank you very much, Chrystia, and it’s great to be here in Vancouver and thank you to you and to Canada for hosting this extremely important gathering of people who obviously share a perspective, an instinct for peace and stability in that region. And when we look at what’s happening at the moment, there can be no doubt that the crisis is intensifying. We’ve had 20 tests in the last year, 20 missiles – two of which flew over Japan, one testing of a nuclear device. And everybody can see that this is not only going – the risk is not only proliferation within the region, but also, of course, of transmission of nuclear weaponry to non-state actors, to terrorist groups, with unthinkable consequences for the world.

And so it’s very important and encouraging that the world has not been intimidated or divided by the threat from Pyongyang. And actually, we have come together, and in Resolution 2397, there was an unprecedented measure of global consensus about what to do and to intensify the political and economic pressure on the regime. And I pay tribute, by the way, to others who are not in this room who are indispensable to making sure that that process succeeds.

Now, as Kyung-wha and Taro have said, it’s great that conversations are taking place now between North Korea and the Republic of Korea, and it’s great that there is an Olympic truce, as it were. This is a very ancient idea, the Olympic truce. It goes back to the ancient Olympic Games, I might say. But what always happened in those – in the case of those Olympic truces is they were – as soon as the Games were over, I’m afraid things reverted pretty much to the status (inaudible).

And so I hope very much that people will recognize, as Taro Kono just said, that the program is continuing in North Korea. Kim Jong-un continues with his illegal program. He has not been deterred, I’m afraid. And so I think our job collectively now is to send out a very clear message that we want to intensify that pressure, and we need to sharpen the choice for him and for the people of North Korea. They can – he can continue on a path of provocation and equipping his country with nuclear weapons that will lead to further isolation, further economic pain and hardship for his people, or else he has the opportunity to go down a path that can lead to greater well-being for the people of North Korea and a chance to emulate the astonishing achievements of the republic.

And our job is to help him in any way that we can to make the right choice, and that will need common sense but it will also need a great deal of resolve and fortitude in the months ahead.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: Okay. Thank you very much, Boris, and I had a personal bet as to whether you’d work in a classical analogy, and you did.

So thank you very much, colleagues, for those opening remarks. I think we’ve set the table very well both for our deliberations today and also for our citizens and the world, which is watching and listening to the work that we’re doing. And with that, I would like to thank our fine colleagues from the international media. Thank you for being with us, and now we will bid you farewell.