TORONTO – Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations on Sunday affirmed they will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and pledged to maintain “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang until it rids itself of nuclear weapons, Foreign Minister Taro Kono said.
“We fully agreed that we will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea,” Kono said on the first day of the two-day meeting in Toronto, suggesting Pyongyang’s announcement that it will suspend nuclear tests and long-range missile launches is insufficient to meet the demands of the international community.
“We shared the view that (the announcement) made no reference to the abandonment of the nuclear program,” Kono said of the top diplomats from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States plus the European Union.
“Compared to North Korea’s behavior thus far, it marks one step forward. We welcome it as a positive step,” he added.
Although disagreeing on the Iran nuclear deal, the G-7 ministers were united in their call for North Korea to abandon all weapons of mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons, as well as its ballistic missile programs, including short- and midrange missiles capable of hitting South Korea and Japan, Kono said.
A senior U.S. official said President Donald Trump’s administration will not make the same mistakes as his predecessors by pursuing incremental or phased approaches to denuclearizing North Korea.
“We are looking for substantial dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear programs first, and until denuclearization is achieved the global maximum pressure campaign will continue,” the official said, requesting anonymity.
The remarks were in line with Trump’s assertion that previous administrations gave Pyongyang too many concessions despite the country not abandoning its nuclear weapons ambitions.
The ministers met a day after North Korea said it will suspend nuclear tests and long-range missile launches, as well as dismantle its only known nuclear test site, a pronouncement seen as leader Kim Jong Un playing a card ahead of his meeting Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and with Trump, expected in late May or early June.
The move by Kim, however, falls short of the G-7’s demand that his regime abandon all weapons of mass destruction and missiles in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.
Kono said that none of the G-7 members said North Korea’s announcement — which critics see as an attempt to win relief from U.N. and other sanctions — will lead to an easing of sanctions on Pyongyang.
The other G-7 members, meanwhile, backed Kono’s call for the immediate resolution of North Korea’s abduction of Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s.
The ministers, however, were apparently at odds over the Iran nuclear deal, with Washington calling for revising it and Europe vowing to promote it as way of preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
With Trump threatening to withdraw the United States if an agreement to revamp the deal cannot be reached before the May 12 deadline set by the U.S. leader, Kono said “many ministers” sought “continuous and complete implementation” of the deal.
The ministers discussed negotiations underway between the United States and three European powers — Britain, France and Germany — for a “supplemental agreement” as a possible compromise, according to the senior U.S. official.
The deal was struck in 2015 between Iran and six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States under the administration of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.
Trump has called for greater access by international inspectors to Iran’s military sites, constraining the country’s ballistic missile program and eliminating so-called sunset provisions under which limits on its nuclear program start to expire after 10 years.
The G-7 ministers affirmed that a political solution would be the only way to address the Syria crisis, according to Kono, given that the U.S.-led airstrikes on the Middle Eastern country earlier this month had further damaged strained relations between the West and Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
The military action by the U.S., Britain and France on sites associated with Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities came after the alleged use by the Assad regime of such weapons on Syrian citizens.
Referring to a Myanmar military crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority that has driven nearly 700,000 refugees into neighboring Bangladesh, some G-7 members criticized the human rights record of the Southeast Asian country, according to Kono.
He said the G-7 nations should support initiatives by Myanmar and Bangladesh to improve the situation in the crisis-hit Rakhine State in western Myanmar.
On the situation in Ukraine, the G-7 ministers urged Russia to comply with the Minsk cease-fire agreements, which include respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty, and to return to a rules-based international order, according to the Foreign Ministry.