Canada and the United States say they will co-host a meeting of foreign ministers on North Korea following the latest intercontinental ballistic missile test by the rogue state, which experts warn demonstrated the technical capacity to reach Washington.
The range of North Korea’s missiles has been steadily expanding, based on tests featuring what are believed to be mock warheads. Experts caution that a real nuclear payload would be significantly heavier and cut the distance that could be flown, but that Pyongyang’s capabilities are growing.
North Korea’s state television described the test as a success and said the new missile, called a Hwasong-15, could reach the entire U.S. mainland.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland condemned the launch – which took place early Wednesday morning North Korean time – calling it a “reckless and dangerous act that threatens regional and global security.”
She announced the meeting on North Korea will take place in Canada. It is expected to bring together many countries from the United Nations coalition established during the Korean War, as well as Japan and other relevant players.
“Canada condemns in the strongest terms North Korea’s continued ballistic missile launches, in direct violation of many United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Ms. Freeland said. “North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs present a direct threat to the world. This threat cannot be tolerated.”
Officials familiar with the plans say the meeting is not likely to take place before the December holiday period, but “quite quickly thereafter.” They said the point of the meeting would be to assess whether a diplomatic route exists to resolve the Korean crisis, even as talk of war escalates. This get-together would not include officials from North Korea.
The Trudeau government’s statement Tuesday stands in stark contrast to comments from Ms. Freeland’s department as recently as two-and-a-half months ago. In mid-September, a senior Global Affairs official told MPs the Canadian government did not believe it was under direct threat from North Korea.
“There has been no direct threat to Canada,” Mark Gwozdecky, an assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs, told the Commons national defence committee on Sept. 14. “On the contrary, in recent contacts with the North Korean government, including in August when our national security adviser was in Pyongyang, the indications were that they perceived Canada as a peaceful and indeed a friendly country. So … we don’t sense a direct threat; we sense that, for the time being at least, they perceive us as not an enemy and therefore potentially a friend.”
North Korea fired the missile a week after U.S. President Donald Trump put North Korea back on a U.S. list of countries that Washington says support terrorism. The designation allows the United States to impose more sanctions, although some experts said it risks inflaming tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under its leader, Kim Jong-un, in defiance of UN sanctions. Mr. Trump has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland United States.
Of the latest test missile, Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House: “It is a situation that we will handle.” Mr. Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke by phone and agreed to boost deterrence capability against North Korea, Yasutoshi Nishimura, deputy chief cabinet secretary, told reporters in Tokyo.
Mr. Trump said the launch did not change his administration’s approach to North Korea, which has included new curbs to hurt trade between China and North Korea. Washington views the strategy as important to deterring Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said in the latest North Korean launch, the ICBM went “higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken.”
Scientists say the latest launch raises the possibility North Korea may have developed the capacity to reach the North America mainland with its missiles.
David Wright, a physicist and arms-control expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said data from the latest launch suggests the missile Pyongyang fired would have a range of more than 13,000 kilometres if flown on a standard trajectory, instead of the lofted trajectory flown in the test.
“Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and, in fact, any part of the continental United States,” wrote Dr. Wright, co-director and senior scientist with the group, in a blog post Tuesday.
He acknowledged, however, that a nuclear payload on such a missile would shorten the potential range.
“We do not know how heavy a payload this [test] missile carried, but given the increase in range, it seems likely that it carried a very light mock warhead. If true, that means it would be incapable of carrying a nuclear warhead to this long distance, since such a warhead would be much heavier.”
Washington has said repeatedly that all options, including military ones, are on the table in dealing with North Korea, but that it prefers a peaceful solution by Pyongyang agreeing to give up its weapons programs.
“Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now. The United States remains committed to finding a peaceful path to denuclearization and to ending belligerent actions by North Korea,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.
Other than carrying out existing UN sanctions, “the international community must take additional measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic” travelling to North Korea, Mr. Tillerson said.
The UN Security Council was scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss North Korea’s latest missile launch. North Korea has given no indication it is willing to give up its weapons programs and re-enter diplomatic talks.
The United States and Japan said the missile used in the early Wednesday launch appeared to be an ICBM.
The Pentagon said its initial assessment was that an ICBM was launched from Sain Ni in North Korea and travelled about 1,000 kilometres before splashing down in the Sea of Japan. The missile did not pose a threat to the United States, its territories or allies, the Pentagon said.
North Korea has said its weapons programs are a necessary defence against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such intention.
The Globe and Mail, November 29, 2017