15 Jan 2018

Peters to attend North Korea talks

5:25 pm on 15 January 2018

Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters will join 20 other countries at a meeting to discuss how to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Winston Peters, left, will meet with 20 other countries to discuss North Korea

Winston Peters, left, will meet with 20 other countries to discuss North Korea Photo: RNZ / AFP

Mr Peters leaves tonight for Canada, which will host the meeting in Vancouver on Wednesday, NZT.

The meeting, co-hosted by Canada and the United States, comes amid signs that tensions on the peninsula have eased, at least temporarily.

North and South Korea held talks for the first time in two years last week and Pyongyang says it will send athletes across the border to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

But the United States and others say the international community must look at ways of expanding a broad range of sanctions aimed at North Korea's nuclear program.

Mr Peters said he looked forward to the discussions, which would seek to find diplomatic solutions.

It was also an opportunity for the international community to demonstrate solidarity in opposition to the North Korean nuclear tests and missile launches, Mr Peters said.

US State Department director of policy planning Brian Hook said there was growing evidence that the US "maximum pressure campaign" was having an effect on North Korea.

"They are feeling the strain," he said.

Mr Hook told a briefing in Washington that participants, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, would examine how to boost maritime security around North Korea to intercept ships trying to defy sanctions as well as "disrupting funding and disrupting resources".

The 17-nation Proliferation Security Initiative, which aims to prevent the trafficking of weapons of mass destruction, on Friday said "it is imperative for us to redouble our efforts to put maximum pressure on North Korea".

But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no sign of willingness to give in to US demands and negotiate away a weapons programme he sees as vital to his survival.

Another challenge in Vancouver will be the absence of China, which has significant influence in North Korea. Beijing is Pyongyang's only ally and its chief trading partner.

The meeting primarily groups those nations that sent troops to the Korean war of 1950-53, when China fought alongside the North. Beijing condemned the gathering.

"Holding this kind of meeting that doesn't include important parties to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue actually cannot help in advancing an appropriate resolution to the issue," China foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Other invitees include Japan and South Korea.

Mr Hook said China and Russia - which is also not attending - would be fully briefed on the conclusions. That said, Beijing's absence will be felt, say diplomats.

"Without China there is a real limit as to what can be achieved," one senior diplomatic source said.

Zhao Tong, a North Korea expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre in Beijing, said the United States did not want Russia and China potentially distracting the discussion by raising their proposal to halt joint US-South Korean military drills that the North says are a prelude to an invasion.

Fears of war have eased somewhat after the first round of intra-Korean talks in more than two years, and Mr Trump, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal this week, appeared to signal more of an openness toward diplomacy after a period of exchanging insults and threats with Kim.

Mr Trump has also vacillated between praising and criticising China, which he has cast as critical to reining in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

-RNZ/Reuters

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs