STATE DEPARTMENT —
Days after high-level talks between South and North Korea, U.S. Secretary State Rex Tillerson will join foreign ministers in Vancouver on Tuesday to discuss the latest diplomatic push to counter Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile threats.
Foreign ministers of the U.N. Command Sending States are set to gather on January 16 to assess progress made by the international pressure campaign aimed at thwarting North Korea's efforts to evade U.N. sanctions through smuggling.
While participants in the talks will be from countries that have sent troops and humanitarian aid to support South Korea during the Korean War, U.S. officials said the gathering itself would not be focused on coordinating a military plan.
The goal of the talks, State Department policy planning director Brian Hook said Thursday, is to find ways "to exert continued pressure on the Kim [Jong Un] regime while demonstrating that diplomatic options remain open and viable."
Steve Goldstein, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, told VOA "there will be no discussion of a military option" at the Vancouver ministerial meeting.
"This is about making sure that everyone is on the same page regarding the sanctions," he said. Participants will explore whether "there are additional things that we can do to ensure these sanctions are in place and implemented."
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will also take part in the Vancouver welcome dinner to demonstrate a comprehensive U.S. approach, according to the Pentagon.
"He's showing solidarity with Secretary Tillerson," said Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White. "We are here to support our diplomats to ensure they negotiate from a position of strength."
The United States is exploring all options to disrupt North Korea's capability to obtain funding and resources through vessels that are engaging in prohibited activities under U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The Vancouver ministerial will come days after renewed talks between North Korea and South Korea over Pyongang's participation in next month's Winter Olympics. The Vancouver talks also will follow U.S.President Donald Trump's statement, made after he had spoken with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that he would be open to talks with North Korea "at the appropriate time."
"We will wait to see where this engagement eventually leads. As always, we are hoping for a diplomatic solution," said the State Department's Hook.
Vice President Mike Pence will lead the U.S. delegation to attend the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but there is no planned meeting between officials from Washington and Pyongyang, the State Department said.
Some experts say seeking sanctions relief may be one of the reasons North Korea's Kim reached out for talks with South Korea.
"Maybe it shows that applying pressure will, in fact, compel Kim to rethink his approach and to come to the negotiation table," CSIS China Power Project Director Bonnie Glaser told VOA. The China Power Project of the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a Washington research group, seeks to explain the evolving nature of Chinese power relative to other nations.
Glaser said the effectiveness of binding sanctions against Pyongyang "will strengthen the efforts of the international community to continue down this path of maximum pressure."
Over 90 percent of North Korea's publicly reported exports as of 2016 are now banned. Countries including the United Arab Emirates, Peru, Spain and Portugal have either severed diplomatic ties with North Korea or expelled its ambassadors. Qatar and Kuwait had also halted work visas to North Korean laborers.
While China and Russia will not be represented at the Vancouver meeting, a readout of the discussion will be provided.
Ministers will most likely also focus on the domestic situation in North Korea. While the United States is not advocating a regime change in North Korea, Tillerson had said Washington has to prepare for any scenario.
The U.S. had proposed to China that military officials from both countries discuss the disposition of North Korea's nuclear weapons, should Kim's regime collapse.
The proposal was made "so that we can come up with a plan to dispose of those nuclear weapons in a manner that's safe for all countries and all people involved," said Goldstein, while not confirming that such discussions were already underway.