TORONTO - Group of Seven foreign ministers pledged Monday to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea to compel it to give up its nuclear and missile programs, determining that Pyongyang’s decision to suspend nuclear tests and long-range missile launches is not sufficient to meet the demands of the international community.
In part of a joint communique issued after a two-day meeting in Toronto, Canada, the G-7 ministers affirmed they will never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea, and pushed Pyongyang to dismantle all weapons of mass destruction, missiles and related facilities in a complete, verifiable and irreversible way.
“We reaffirm that we will never accept a nuclear-armed DPRK and remain committed to the goal of achieving complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of the DPRK’s WMDs, including biological and chemical weapons, missiles and related facilities, for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and beyond,” it said.
DPRK is the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“Noting that meaningful negotiations must imply concrete actions by the DPRK toward denuclearization, we are committed to maintaining maximum pressure, including by cutting down or reducing DPRK diplomatic representation abroad and downgrading economic relationships,” the statement said.
The ministers pledged that until North Korea denuclearizes, the G-7 further commits to countering its sanctions-evasion tactics, particularly through its illicit maritime activities such as ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum and sales of coal and other commodities banned under U.N. conventions against the rogue state.
The ministers met after North Korea announced Saturday it will suspend nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missiles launches, as well as dismantle its only known nuclear test site — a pronouncement seen as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un playing a card ahead of his planned meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday and with U.S. President Donald Trump by early June.
The top diplomats of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States plus the European Union “acknowledge” the North’s announcement as “a first step toward full denuclearization, assuming full implementation,” according to the statement.
The G-7, meanwhile, pressed Pyongyang to resolve its abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s “immediately.”
Referring to security issues elsewhere in the region, the G-7 expressed their “strong opposition” to any unilateral actions that undermine regional stability or the international rules-based order — alluding to China’s militarization of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea and Beijing’s attempts to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
The G-7 statement referred to “the threat or use of force, large-scale land reclamation and building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes,” in a veiled criticism to Chinese actions in the South China Sea in particular.
China has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway through which over one-third of global trade passes.
Regarding a crackdown by Myanmar’s military on the Rohingya Muslim minority that has driven nearly 700,000 refugees into neighboring Bangladesh, the G-7 ministers said they are “deeply concerned” that the repatriation planning process and conditions for Rohingya are not sufficiently established.
The ministers pledged to help address human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar, especially in the crisis-hit Rakhine State.
As part of efforts to support refugees, mostly Rohingya women and children, the United States on Monday announced an additional $50 million in humanitarian assistance to support a U.N.-led joint response plan in Bangladesh.
The G-7 also united to condemn Russia for what they called “a pattern of irresponsible and destabilizing” behavior, and urged Moscow to help resolve the conflict in Syria.
The ministers agreed to create a working group to study Russia’s “malign behavior” and said they were working on a plan to improve coordination to push back against foreign interference in elections.
“We call on Russia to cease this behavior, which is highly detrimental to prospects for constructive cooperation,” they said in the joint statement.
The two-day meeting in Toronto was intended as preparation for a G-7 leaders’ summit in Charlevoix, Quebec on June 7-8.
U.S. intelligence agencies have said Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign and Russia was also blamed for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain last month, which the G-7 statement strongly condemned. Moscow has denied involvement in either event.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said G-7 ministers expressed deep concern about Russia’s efforts to destabilize democracies by interfering in elections.
“The G-7 countries are committed to preventing, stopping and responding to foreign interference,” she told a news conference at the end of talks.
“There are consequences for those who seek to undermine our democracies,” she said, adding there was clear unity among G-7 allies on Russia.
Later, Freeland told reporters the G-7 would soon detail a plan on improved coordination among member states when faced with foreign interference.
“Coordinated action and cooperation are needed to build resilience and reinforce our democratic institutions and process against foreign interference by state and non-state actors,” Freeland told reporters.
“There is a concern within the G-7 countries that authoritarian states are actively working to undermine democratic systems … today we said ‘enough is enough,’ ” she added.