Canada and U.S. touting Vancouver meeting on North Korea, but key ally Japan is reluctant

TOKYO — Canada and the United States are publicly discussing plans for a major meeting on North Korea in Vancouver next month, but doesn’t seem to have decided whether or not the meeting would be a good idea.

The planned summit, to be co-chaired by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canadian Minister , is a major topic as the two meet in .

“At this stage, we are not sure what kind of meeting it will be,” a Japanese government told the National Post on Monday, questioning whether the talks could result in much different than efforts in the past. “We have not made decisions.”

The meeting will be called the “United Command Meeting,” according to a briefing by a U.S. State Department official Monday.

Countries that were members of the United Nations Command will be . The military grouping consisted of , the United States and 15 other countries, including Canada, that contributed to defending the south during the Korean War from 1950 to 1953.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson before a meeting in Ottawa, Tuesday December 19, 2017.

“The meeting of the Vancouver Group is going to be another visible sign that the international community is acting in concert to speak to the government of North Korea and to say this is threatening us all and the pressure will increase until the behaviour changes,” Freeland said in a joint press conference with Tillerson Tuesday.

“Having said that, we are confident that this campaign of international pressure will lead to the best outcome for the whole world, I think the only outcome for the whole world, which is a diplomatic path to a resolution to this crisis.”

Tillerson confirmed original Korean War sending states are invited as well as others including Japan, India and Sweden. “What’s important for North Korea to know is that this pressure campaign will not abate, we will not be rolling any of it back, it will only intensify as time goes by,” he said.

Freeland’s press secretary Adam Austen said some invitations haven’t been responded to yet but “Japan and South Korea are in for sure.”

Japan has shown some reluctance, however.

Tillerson and Freeland first announced they were planning such a meeting at the end of November. The Japan Times, Japan’s biggest English-language newspaper, reported days later that the Canadians had been trying to set it up for as early as December, but Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono wouldn’t commit to anything before the end of the year.

The Japanese official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said Tillerson and Kono met on the margins of a United Nations Security Council meeting in New York last week. Since that meeting, Japan’s foreign officials who spoke to the Post Monday had not been given the impression they should start planning a trip to Vancouver.

A Canadian official told The Canadian Press when the meeting was announced that planning it “helps give legs to a diplomatic solution.”

Dialogue for the sake of dialogue is meaningless, from the Japanese point of view. The current strategy is to put enough pressure on North Korea through economic sanctions that it will be forced to beg for some kind of deal, and agree to meaningful concessions.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono speaks to reporters during a news conference Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, at United Nations headquarters.

North Korea has broken past promises it would end its nuclear program. Missile launches and nuclear tests have ramped up considerably in the past two years and since coming into power U.S. President Donald Trump has met them with provocations of his own, from tweets taunting leader Kim Jong Un to a continuation of annual joint military exercises with South Korea.

Although Canada has never been a major player on this issue in the past, it is good that Canadians want to sit at the table and play a bigger role in dealing with North Korea, said the Japanese official.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been more active on the file himself, recently meeting with Tillerson on the topic and telling reporters last month about his theory that a backchannel to North Korea could be established via Cuba.

While Japan has been within range of North Korean attacks for many years, now Canada is, too, as confirmed by intercontinental ballistic missile tests. “The danger which Canada may feel will be more and more,” the official said. “Canada should be one of the main players.”

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Marie-Danielle Smith travelled to Japan on a fellowship with The Foreign Press Centre Japan, a non-profit independent private organization.

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