An international summit aimed at containing North Korea’s nuclear programme is an opportunity to push for wider and stronger sanctions, Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters says.
Peters will join foreign ministers from 21 different countries at a Vancouver meeting, co-hosted by Canada and the United States, to discuss how North Korea’s nuclear aspirations can be thwarted.
North Korea’s continued tests of missiles and nuclear weapons has created unease around the world, exacerbated by US President Donald Trump’s aggressive stance towards the country and its leader Kim Jong-un.
Speaking to Newsroom before flying out, Peters said he was hopeful meaningful progress could be made, given the gravity of the situation.
“The fact is that this is a disastrous course for the Korean peninsula and wider international community which the North Koreans are going [on], so every effort has got to be made now to ensure we get some success in turning this around.”
Peters said he would use the meeting to add New Zealand’s voice to a “feasible, workable strategy” which could change North Korea’s approach.
New Zealand would push hard for stronger economic sanctions, which he said “have not been exhausted in the way they should have been”.
“I think the international sanction regime should be much wider and more profound and more pronounced, and bring far greater pressure to bear on the North Koreans," Peters said.
“I believe that they can be stopped from doing this in terms of economic sanctions, and the tragedy of all this of course is that it’s the North Korean people themselves who are suffering the most from this matter.”
However, Peters said broader sanctions would need to be matched with a positive vision for North Korea if the country was to change tack.
“We want to give them a way out to a much more successful long-term economic outcome for their economy and for their people, and that’s what we need to hold out as a significant inducement to a better, secure future for their own people and the Korean peninsula.”
He described the resumption of talks between North Korea and South Korea - with North Korea agreeing to send a team to this year’s Winter Olympics in South Korea - as “the first glimmer of hope we’ve had for some time”, and hoped that could be matched by similar engagement with the United States.
“I think you've got to go with an open mind. This is not a hopeless situation - it might have seemed so thus far, but it’s become more critical that we put our best collective intelligence and making decisions together as fast as we possibly can now.”
Peters travelled to North Korea during his last stint as Foreign Affairs Minister under Helen Clark’s government, winning access to the reclusive country for Kiwi bird conservationists.
While there has been speculation that he could again travel to the country to take an active role in negotiations, Peters would not be drawn on any possible role, saying: “I’m not making any statements about it at this point in time.”
At a Washington briefing, US State Department senior policy advisor Brian Hook told media the dialogue between North and South Korea was unlikely to lead to a greater focus on diplomatic engagement instead of sanctions.
“I don’t think it’s going to change the agenda. I think you saw that the President and the Secretary [of State] were both very pleased with the interaction between the North and the South."
“We believe that that was brought about through – in some part because of the pressure campaign.”
While China’s absence from the Vancouver talks has been criticised by some given its significance in resolving the situation, Hook said the country would be briefed on the discussions.
“China is working with us. This is not an alternative to everything that we are doing. This ministerial will enhance and strengthen all of the efforts underway to achieve our policy goals.”
The US wanted “very concrete steps” from the Vancouver meeting, including an assessment of progress to date and where more could be done, he said.