POLITICS
12/19/2017 18:21 EST | Updated 12/19/2017 19:29 EST

Canada, U.S. Will Co-Host International Meeting On North Korea

Foreign ministers from around the world will come to Vancouver.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hold a joint press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2017.
LARS HAGBERG/AFP via Getty Images
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson hold a joint press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2017.

OTTAWA — Canada and United States will co-host a major international meeting of foreign ministers on the North Korean crisis next month in Vancouver.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced the Jan. 16 date alongside U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson during his visit to Ottawa for a series of meetings Tuesday, including a sit-down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The North Korean nuclear crisis dominated discussions between the two ministers.

But Tillerson also sounded a conciliatory note on the ongoing talks to modernize the North American Free Trade Agreement, saying the U.S. wants a deal that is "fair'' all around.

Freeland and Tillerson have been discussing plans for the international meeting for months, but decided to announce it last month after North Korea carried out its longest-ever missile test.

There are few details, but the duo said it will involve countries that participated in the Korean War and other key regional actors, including South Korea and Japan.

This pressure campaign will not abate.Rex Tillerson

Tillerson said the goal is to keep pressure on North Korea to come to bargaining table, something the regime has shown no interest in doing lately.

"This pressure campaign will not abate; we will not be rolling any of it back,'' said Tillerson.

"It will remain in place until they agree to give up their nuclear weapons, and allow us to verify that is in fact what they have done.''

Blair Gable/Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes part in a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2017.

Freeland said the international show of solidarity in Vancouver would help that effort, but she offered no specifics on what Canada's contribution might be.

"Showing international solidarity is an important goal of this meeting.''

Tillerson's supper-hour visit with Trudeau was an unusual add-on to a visiting foreign minister's itinerary, but it's not unheard of and underscores the importance Canada attaches to its relations with its top trading partner and key ally.

Trudeau has taken a personal interest in the North Korea crisis and has expressed concern about the rogue regime's ability to launch intercontinental missiles that could cross through Canadian airspace.

Trudeau may take advantage of Cuba relationship

He has raised the possibility of leveraging Canada's traditionally good relations with Cuba as a way to make progress on North Korea's pursuit of a nuclear arsenal.

"There hasn't been huge amount of discussion around that, but it was a topic of conversation when I met President Raul Castro last year,'' Trudeau said last month in Charlottetown.

The Canadian government has so far resisted calls to join the U.S. ballistic missile defence shield that is designed to shoot down incoming missiles aimed at North America.

Blair Gable/Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau meets with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2017.

Paul Martin's Liberal government opted out of the shield in the 2005, bowing to domestic political pressure mainly in Quebec, and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper avoided the issue in its near decade in power.

But the current Conservative Opposition now says it is time for Canada to talk to the U.S. about joining the program.

"For the first time beyond the Cold War we have a credible threat to North America from ballistic missiles - and the trajectory for that missile would make parts of Canada vulnerable,'' Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole said last week in a fundraising pitch to supporters.

"Rather than just planning for 'cataclysmic terms,' the Liberals should follow the Conservative party's proposal and participate in the missile defence program, and ensure that Canada is a full partner in the defence of North America.''

Tillerson and Freeland also talked about the Ukraine-Russia crisis and the political turmoil in Venezuela. Freeland announced she would travel to Ukraine on Wednesday.

The two also discussed issues closer to home. Tillerson said the ongoing NAFTA talks permeated the discussions, which also included an expanded session with the cabinet committee on Canada-U.S. relations.

Blair Gable/Reuters
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland takes part in a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ottawa on Dec. 19, 2017.

The next round of NAFTA negotiations is set for next month in Montreal and there has been much hand-wringing about whether the U.S. wants a deal or is trying to torpedo the pact with a series of untenable positions — so-called poison pills that Canada and Mexico can't swallow.

Tillerson moved to tamp down those worries, saying "It is timely and right that we should re-examine that agreement.

"Having said that, as the old saying goes, the devil's in the details,'' he added. "Both parties are approaching the negotiations in good faith in an effort to achieve a modernized NAFTA agreement.''

Tillerson knows Canada from past visits as an oil executive, but this is his first visit since joining the Trump administration this year.

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