01/16/2018 19:06 EST | Updated 01/16/2018 19:39 EST

Rex Tillerson Calls Out Russia, China For Helping North Korea At Vancouver Summit

He warned of consequences if they don't change their course.

Ben Nelms/Reuters
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives at a summit about North Korea in Vancouver on Jan. 16, 2018.

VANCOUVER — North Korea may have been the main target, but China and Russia were also in the crosshairs Tuesday as Canada huddled with some of its closest partners to discuss how best to put an end to Pyongyang's nuclear aspirations.

The main complaint? That China and Russia were not doing enough to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea and strangle its nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.

A call for all nations to enforce sanctions against North Korea was the main focus as Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and counterparts from the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Britain kicked off the high-profile gathering.

A total of 20 countries, the majority of which were invited because of their support for South Korea during the Korean War more than 50 years ago, took part in the meeting.

Canada and the U.S. called the meeting in response to Pyongyang's recent nuclear and ballistic-missile tests, which have rattled the international community and thrust North Korea to the top of the list in terms of global crises.

Freeland and others who spoke before going behind closed doors to continue their deliberations were unanimous in their belief that efforts to isolate North Korea and stop its sources of income were starting to bite.

The pursuit of nuclearization will bring you neither security nor prosperity.Chrystia Freeland

And despite a thawing of relations and resumption of talks between North and South Korea in recent weeks, there was unanimity in the need for real progress on denuclearization before any easing of pressure.

"Our message is clear," Freeland said. "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."

One of the questions heading into the meeting was whether participants would endorse a U.S. call for naval interdiction of North Korean shipping, following concerns about smuggling.

Yet there was also clear frustration at the fact some countries, notably China and Russia, were not doing enough to prevent Pyongyang from skirting the sanctions.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was most direct as he called out North Korea's most influential neighbours — and warned of consequences if they did not do more.

Jonathan Hayward/CANADIAN PRESS
United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson speaks with Korean Foreign Affairs Minister Kang Kyung-wha during a meeting about North Korea in Vancouver on Jan. 16, 2018.

"We all must insist on full enforcement of UN Security Council sanctions, as this is the letter of the law," he said.

"We especially urge Russia and China in this matter. ... We cannot abide lapses or sanctions evasions. We will continue to call attention to and designate entities and individuals complicit in such evasive actions."

The U.S. last year sanctioned several Chinese companies and individuals for their alleged involvement in helping the North Korean government skirt sanctions.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, were more circumspect as they called for full implementation of sanctions by all UN members.

But British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson noted that trade between China and North Korea continues to flow, which indicates that "more can be done."

Jonathan Hayward/CANADIAN PRESS
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland meets Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson during the meeting in Vancouver on Jan. 16, 2018.

The focus on Russia and China was all the more notable given that the two countries have both blasted the Vancouver meeting, calling it unhelpful and even potentially harmful to the prospects for peace with North Korea.

Freeland and others, meanwhile, emphasized that they were not seeking regime change, and suggested that by abandoning its nuclear aspirations, Pyongyang would help bring a safer, more prosperous future to its people.

Whether that message resonates with Kim Jong Un's regime will have to be seen, but analysts have long asserted that it sees nuclear weapons as the ultimate guarantor of its survival in any conflict with the U.S.

With files from Laura Kane and Geordon Ormand in Vancouver.

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