US, allies vow tougher measures to stop North Korea busting sanctions

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Korea war allies discuss counter smuggling measures

VANCOUVER: The United States and its allies yesterday vowed tougher measures to halt North Korean sanctions busting, including naval security operations to prevent maritime smuggling.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, hosts of talks in Vancouver, urged world powers to support "maritime interdiction" measures.

Along with Japan, South Korea and the other powers gathered for the high-level meeting, they re-committed to "the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula."

The warning of robust new tactics to intercept illicit shipments of nuclear materials or sanctions-busting imports was the most concrete measure to come out of a two-day meeting, to which China and Russia were not invited.

Many observers, including Beijing and Moscow themselves, had questioned the value of holding a meeting of former Korea War allies to discuss an issue when China remains the key to diplomatic success.

Others had noted a stark difference in tone between the hawkish Japanese envoy, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and South Korea's more cautious Kang Kyung Wha, who said recent inter-Korea talks were a sign sanctions are already working.

But, after the meeting was done, Mr Tillerson insisted the allies will remain united and continue to work with China and Russia to enforce United Nations-backed sanctions and force North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to negotiate his own nuclear disarmament.

"Our unity and our common cause with others in the region, most particularly China and Russia, will remain intact despite North Korea's frequent attempts to divide us," he said.

"We discussed the importance of working together to counter sanctions evasion and smuggling and we also issued a call to action to strengthen global maritime interdiction operations."


North Korea has been accused of seeking to evade the sanctions imposed on its isolated regime by transferring supplies from foreign vessels to its own on the high seas.

Some experts have argued that naval action to intercept merchantmen would be interpreted as an act of war and trigger a potentially devastating North Korean response.

Reports in Washington suggest that US forces are at least planning for a potential strike of their own, a limited so-called "bloody nose" strike to convince Mr Kim that his safest option is a negotiated settlement. - AFP