Remarks by Secretary Tillerson with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland at a Press Availability

Press Availability

Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State

Vancouver, Canada
January 16, 2018


FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: Sorry to be a bit late. We had a lot we had to pack into the day. And thanks to everyone for joining us. I’d like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish peoples including the territories of Musqueam, the Squamish, and the Tsleil-Waututh Nations.

(In French.)

So first, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the United States and specifically my colleague, counterpart, Secretary Rex Tillerson, for cohosting this Foreign Ministerial on Security and Stability in the Korean Peninsula.

For more than two decades the international community has advanced a range of initiatives to limit or dismantle North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs and related activities. In response and in direct contravention of its international obligations, North Korea has engaged in a deliberate and systematic effort to develop and enhance its capabilities. Nowhere else in the world do we see the proliferations of weapons and materials of mass destruction on the scale of North Korea’s program.

We cannot stand by as this threat persists and worsens. The UN Security Council has adopted 10 resolutions in response to North Korea’s destabilizing actions in addition to convening successive emergency meetings following ballistic missile tests. Just last month Japan convened an extraordinary session of the UN Security Council at the foreign ministerial level to take stock of North Korea’s continued proliferation activities.

The 20 nations represented here in Vancouver have agreed that we must work together to ensure that sanctions imposed on North Korea are strictly enforced. We also agreed that we must take significant steps to keep North Korea from evading sanctions and to sever financial lifelines for the country’s weapons of mass destruction.

I do want to say clearly that we as a group harbor no hostility whatsoever towards North Korea or its people. We seek neither a regime change nor a collapse. What we do want is to resolve this crisis peacefully to achieve what is in our collective best interests, and that is security and stability on the Korean Peninsula. A North Korea that commits to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantling of its nuclear program will have a secure place in the international community. Until and unless that goal is reached, the international community will continue to take the necessary steps to stop North Korea’s nuclearization and aggression.

Thank you very much. Secretary Tillerson.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, thank you also, Foreign Minister Freeland, and good evening to all. On behalf of the United States, I do want to thank Foreign Minister Freeland and the government and people of Canada for cohosting this important meeting of nations who are committed to peacefully resolving the North Korean issue. The United States is grateful as always that we can rely on our friend and neighbor, Canada, as a partner on North Korea along with a host of many other security issues where we have shared interest.

I also want to thank the other participating nations, representatives of the UN Command sending states along with our trilateral partners – the Republic of Korea and Japan – that took part in this ministerial as well. This group of sending states nations who fought to ensure freedom and democracy will not just survive but ultimately thrive on the Korean Peninsula have maintained that same commitment in confronting the serious threat not just to freedom on the peninsula but a threat to the global community of nations.

The steps they and indeed the broader international community have taken and will take to implement the maximum pressure campaign are essential to resolving this situation through diplomatic means, as the United States hopes to do. Our nations repeated a unified message that we have sent the regime before: We will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. All of us share one policy and one goal, and that is the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

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. Today we discussed ways to further increase pressure on North Korea through more effective sanctions implementation and compliance, and countries came forward with proposals on how they intend to do that. We agreed that the need for UN member-states, especially China and Russia, to fully implement agreed-upon sanctions is essential to their success.

We discussed the importance of working together to counter sanctions evasion and smuggling. And we also issued a call to action to strengthen global maritime interdiction operations to foil the illicit ship-to-ship transfers. In doing so, let me be clear: We do not seek to interfere with legitimate maritime activities. Our diplomats in New York will continue to press for tighter sanctions on the DPRK should there be subsequent provocations.

The goal of the maximum pressure campaign is and always has been to move North Korea towards credible negotiations on denuclearization. And our diplomatic talks have always been backed up by a strong and resolute military option. Today, however, we had constructive discussions about how to push our diplomatic efforts forward and prepare for the prospects of talks.

But productive negotiations require a credible negotiating partner. North Korea has not yet shown themselves to be that credible partner. The United States has always been open to clear messages that North Korea – and we have sent clear messages to North Korea that we are ready for serious negotiations. North Koreans know our channels are open, and they know where to find us. But a sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior is necessary – is a necessary indicator of whether the regime is truly ready to pursue a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the security threat that it has created.

Our nations must remain united on sustaining pressure until North Korea takes concrete steps toward and ultimately reaches denuclearization. Again, I thank Foreign Minister Freeland for Canada’s resolve and determination in finding a diplomatic solution for denuclearizing the North Korean situation. The same goes for all other nations that were here with us today as well. And I thank our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea. And finally, the United States extends our best wishes for a very successful Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Thank you.

MODERATOR: So we’ll do questions starting with Canadian Glen McGregor from CTV. One question; no follow-up, please.

QUESTION: Minister Freeland, is there a role for Canada in enforcing those sanctions specifically in maritime interdiction? And Secretary Tillerson, have you asked Canada and Canada’s military to play a role in this important part of enforcing these sanctions?

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: Well, nice to see you here, Glen. Thanks for coming. As Secretary Tillerson said, we had an extensive discussion of countersmuggling, sanctions evasion, and maritime interdiction. And one of the points that we discussed at length – and I think it would be fair to say the group of 20 nations agreed on – is not only are sanctions starting to bite, are they starting to have a positive effect, but the best next step for us to take is to be sure that those sanctions already in place with UN approval actually are fully implemented. So that was an issue we discussed at some length.

And certainly, Canada has a strong role to play. We are working together on a number of different fronts. We’ve joined together with our American partners in capacity building for countries. There are a lot of countries we have found in the world who have the political will to implement sanctions but lack the technical capacity. And Canada is contributing $3.25 million to a joint effort with the United States to work on that capacity building.

All of us collectively also agreed that in our bilateral interactions with countries around the world and in our interactions with regional groups that we are part of – for example, Canada, as you know, is a member of the Lima Group and I’ll be in Santiago at a Lima Group meeting next week – we’re going to continue to raise the issue of smuggling, of sanctions evasion, and continue to do everything we can at a diplomatic, at a technical level, to make sure that the sanctions that we have all agreed on, that the international community has agreed on, really are enforced.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: So with respect to any request for Canadian military assistance or joint activities, there’s been none. And you asked it relative to the sanctions, because I think as you heard Foreign Minister Freeland describe, the sanctions by and large begin with voluntary compliance, and then we check to see if people if are complying or not, and there are subsequent actions that can be taken to ensure their compliance.

In moving to the issue of maritime interdiction, this is subject to standard laws, international laws for maritime interdiction. And most of the actions that have been taken thus far have been taken actually in ports of call when vessels have been believed to have violated sanctions, then they have been detained in a port of call where the country is complying with the sanctions. So at this point it’s required very little military activity to enforce the sanctions other than we do share – we have information sharing so that we all understand what are the proper procedures to implement the sanctions and stay fully compliant with international laws, norms, and standards.

MODERATOR: The next question, John Hudson, Buzzfeed.

QUESTION: Hi, Mr. Secretary. What’s your message to African nations that are outraged and angry about the President’s alleged remarks about their countries? And more importantly, what are you doing to try to ensure that U.S. relations with an entire continent aren’t jeopardized?

And Minister Freeland, many people are genuinely worried about the escalating rhetoric between Kim Jung-un and Donald Trump and worried that it can turn into a nuclear catastrophe. Do you share this fear?

SECRETARY TILLERSON: With respect to U.S. relations with the African continent and African nations, the U.S. continues to be one of the most generous nations on the entire planet in terms of aid, assistance, mutual defense assistance, and economic development. And we had a very successful hosting of a conference of African nations and the African Union at the State Department here just late last year where we explored both economic issues, but we explored shared security issues. As you know, African nations, one of their greatest concerns is counterterrorism, and they are exposed to the effects of terrorist activities as well.

So we have a very positive relationship with African nations. We share a number of security issues. We share a number of economic development issues. And I think those leaders know that the United States wants that relationship to continue to be strong. We know they want that relationship to be strong as well. So at this stage nothing has changed with respect to our relationship with African nations, and we’ve continued to see them wanting to strengthen our relationship in that regard as well.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: So as I said my opening remarks, and I think it’s important for us to all be very clear on this, the source of the threat to the international community, the source of the illegal actions, the source of the nuclearization, is North Korea. It is North Korea’s actions which are making us all less safe and to which we all need to respond as allies and as an international community.

We have been really delighted to cohost this important meeting with the United States. This is something that Rex and I have been talking about for a few months, and I think we all agreed together with our partners here that the timing has turned out to be really fortuitous because we are seeing – we want to be clearheaded, we don’t want to be in any way Pollyannas about this, but I think we collectively believe that the peaceful pressure is beginning to have an impact. All of us did welcome the talks between the two Koreas, and we see North Korea’s participation in the Olympics as a hopeful sign.

And the really important thing about this meeting, I feel, is the fact that we worked together to show the solidarity of the international community and to show our belief that a diplomatic solution is both possible and essential. That’s what today has been about.

MODERATOR: The next question, Sophie Jackman, Kyodo News.

QUESTION: Good evening. For Secretary Tillerson, Japan and South Korea are currently at odds over the comfort women issue, particularly the 2015 bilateral agreement in which the United States played a large role. How do you think this issue will impact the unified response to North Korea? And as an ally of both countries, how will the United States try to help improve Japan-South Korea relations?

And for Minister Freeland, given the existing tensions in the East and South China Seas, how will you make sure that the maritime interdiction doesn’t contribute to further heightening tensions? Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, first let me address the U.S. trilateral relationship with Japan and the Republic of Korea. And that is a relationship that’s grounded in shared security interest, and the commitments among all three of us to that – to that trilateral arrangement is ironclad. It’s – it is in no way changed from what it historically has been.

The issue of the comfort women is one that – it’s a very emotional issue for both sides, and it’s one that only they can resolve. And our role has been simply to encourage them to deal with the issue, do not let that issue stand in the way of the greater security threats that are common to all of us. And we know that there’s more that needs to be done. I think there have been helpful statements actually made by both sides recognizing that it is a difficult issue for both countries to deal with, and we hope ultimately they can move beyond that. We know it’s not easy for them.

In terms of how it impacts our ability to strengthen the trilateral relationship, it’s not been an obstacle in that relationship around our shared security interests.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: And as to the countersmuggling and the sanctions evasion, as we’ve already discussed, that issue was a subject of quite important focus and conversation today. And again, as we’ve already discussed this evening, a big part of the issue is being sure that we are all doing our own jobs at home, and a lot of the countries around the table talked about efforts that they are making at home to be sure that sanctions are not being evaded by their own nationals. So we devoted a lot of time to that.

And I think the point about capacity building around the world is a really important one. What we are finding in all of our bilateral and regional interactions is this is a threat that has united the world. The world really appreciates that all of us are made less safe by North Korea’s actions. And part of what we need to do now is build on that political consensus to be sure that the enforcement actually follows, and that’s something that we talked at quite a technical level about doing, and I think we all left the room committed to doing our part.

QUESTION: (In French.)


MODERATOR: Next question, Barbara Plett Usher, BBC.

QUESTION: Mr. Tillerson, you’ve made quite clear that you want this issue solved through diplomacy backed up by strong resolute options, as you just said. There are many reports of talk in the White House about the option of a limited military strike, a so-called “bloody nose” that would send a message to North Korea rather than start a war. Do you think that’s a bad idea?

And in a related question, if I may, sir, the question that’s in the minds of many Americans especially after the false missile alert at the weekend, do Americans need to be worried about a possible war with Korea?

And sorry, one more: Could you just clarify briefly the confusion over the past week, or the question, I should say, of whether the President has communicated through a direct channel to the North Korean leader? Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, I’m not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the President, so I have no comment on the, quote, “bloody nose,” as you named it.

With respect to whether Americans should be concerned about a war with North Korea, I think it’s – we all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation. As North Korea has continued to make significant advances in both its nuclear weapons, the lethality of those weapons as demonstrated by their last thermonuclear test as well as the continued progress they’ve made in their intercontinental ballistic missile systems, we have to recognize that that threat is growing. And if North Korea is not – does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation, then they themselves will trigger an option.

I think our approach is, in terms of having North Korea choose the correct step, is to present them with that is the best option, that talks are the best option, that when they look at the – a military situation, that’s not a good outcome for them. When they look at the economic impact of ever-growing sanctions and the pressure campaign, there is no – there is no end to that. And I think for North Korea and the regime, what we hope they are able to realize is the situation only gets worse. It gets worse with each step they take, it gets worse with time. And that is not working to their objectives of wanting to be secure. They are not more secure. They are becoming less secure. They certainly are not more economically prosperous. They’re becoming less prosperous.

And we do think that that message is beginning to – I don’t want to say resonate with them, but there is a realization with them that the rest of the world is quite resolute in this stand we’re taking that we will never accept them as a nuclear power. And so it’s time to talk, but they have to take the step that says they want to talk.

And your last question was around?

QUESTION: Whether or not the President has direct communications with the North —

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, again, there’s just certain elements of this situation that I’m not going to comment upon. I don’t think it’s useful to comment because we’re at – relative to your prior question, we’re at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken their program and what we can do to convince them to take an alternative path. And so I – when we get into who’s talking to who and what was said, if we want that to be made known or made public, we will announce it. Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, my name is (inaudible) from Chosun Ilbo in the Republic of Korea. And I want to ask to the Secretary of the – Tillerson about the strategy on the North Korea. In the process of the pressuring the denuclearization and the pressure the Korean Peninsula, the strategy of the South – the Republic of Korea and the United States seems to be quite different. Although Korean Government pressure two-track strategy – both talking with North Korea and sanction – but the United States – State Government stay to the maximizing pressure and the sanction.

So I want to know, why is the – why the differences of the policy between Korea and the United States on North Korea have occurred? And what direction do you think we should go to the forward to the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula?

And I also have a question to the Minister Freeland. I also want to know what we need to develop inter-Korean dialogue about Olympic and to develop debate on the peace and the denuclearization in the future. Thank you.

SECRETARY TILLERSON: Well, with respect to any differences or any daylight between the approach of the United States and the Republic of Korea, there is none. I think Foreign Minister Kang on multiple occasions in our discussions today reiterated the strong alignment with the international community’s approach of the maximum pressure campaign. And indeed, the Republic of Korea has gone beyond the UN Security Council resolutions and has imposed unilateral sanctions of their own in support of this maximum pressure campaign. And in fact, the Republic of Korea is the country that has detained two vessels for violating sanctions through ship-to-ship transfers.

So I think everything that we discussed from President Trump to President Moon at the ministry of foreign affairs level as well as ministry of defense levels, we are completely aligned that the maximum pressure campaign is the correct strategy and that everyone must stick to that.

Again, just as I said in my remarks, what is the purpose of the maximum pressure campaign? It is intended to cause North Korea to engage as a credible negotiating partner in addressing a pathway to a denuclearization of the peninsula. That is the purpose of the maximum pressure campaign. So we all are working towards the same goal with the same set of tactics.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: Okay. And let me first of all thank you very much for being here together with the entire South Korean delegation. There is no country more deeply touched by North Korea’s actions and more knowledgeable about North Korea than South Korea. And one of the things that all of us acknowledged today was the tremendous stake that South Korea has in this issue. And I think a very important outcome of our conversation today was that it allowed all of us to show very strong solidarity with the people of South Korea, with the Government of South Korea, with Minister Kang in your country’s efforts. That’s very important to all of us.

We had an opportunity to all congratulate South Korea on the inter-Korean dialogue, which has begun this month. I think we all need to be quite modest in our assessment of the progress thus far, but talking is a good thing and it’s a good thing that that’s happening. As Rex said, we are looking forward to peaceful and successful Olympics and Paralympics, and we’re pleased that North Korea will be participating.

As to what it will take for that little beginning of a conversation to move into the conversation that the whole world needs, which is a conversation about denuclearization, what it’s going to take is for North Korea to make that choice.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

FOREIGN MINISTER FREELAND: And I just want to say one final thing: As your host, thank you to everyone for coming, for – particularly to our foreign visitors. We really appreciate it. This is an issue which matters very much to the world, and to Canadians, and we’re delighted that you are all here to pay attention to it. As a former journalist, I know how important your work is in sharing with all the people of the world the conversations that we’re having, and I hope you’ve had a great time in Vancouver, our Pacific city that we’re so proud of. Thank you very much. Merci.