Foreign Minister Winston Peters says sanctions against North Korea have been ineffective and every Western head of state could do more to de-escalate the “growing crisis” over its nuclear programme.
Peters will fly to Vancouver, Canada, tonight to take part in the Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula, hosted by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Peters said North Korea posed a real threat.
“This is a growing crisis, worsening every day, and we have to do our utmost to arrest this crisis now.
“The reality is we are playing with fire here, and the prospects would be horrendous if we aren’t successful. We’ve got to give it our best shot.”
The meeting will involve 21 countries – including Australia, Canada, France, India, Japan, South Korea, the UK, and the US – and show solidarity against North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
But China and Russia will not be attending – though Peters said they would have “almost certainly” been invited.
He said China in particular has to play a key role in pressuring North Korea.
“China’s involvement is very important in this matter, so all this is going to be part of the discussion in Vancouver.”
Fears over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions have been growing, escalated by an exchange this month between leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump over the size of their respective nuclear buttons.
Yesterday a mobile alert was accidentally sent to Hawaiian residents about an inbound ballistic missile, causing widespread panic for 40 minutes before the alert was cancelled. It prompted Democratic Hawaiian congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to criticise Trump’s efforts to achieve a peaceful outcome with North Korea.
Asked if Trump could be doing more, Peters said: “That could be something you could say about every leader in the West. I don’t think any of us thinks we’ve done enough. That’s not a criticism – just an honest appraisal. You can hardly blame the present Prime Minister [Jacinda Ardern] – she just got the job.”
He said the United Nations sanctions from December had not been effective, and the meeting in Canada would be an opportunity to discuss harsher ones.
The sanctions targeted North Korea’s export, import, and maritime sectors, in addition to its energy security.
Peters said successful sanctions would see an end to North Korea’s nuclear programme and the establishment of a different economic model.
“They have a lot to gain from doing that. The biggest victims in this matter are the North Korean people.”
Recent meetings between North and South Korea have resulted in a hotline between the nations being reopened as well as discussions about a North Korean team participating in the Winter Olympics in Seoul next month.
Peters said that was a “very small glimmer of hope”.
“It’s the best news we’ve had for some while. Building on that is what this meeting [in Canada] is about.”
North Korea claims to have successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile at the end of last year, prompting fears that they could launch a missile that could reach the US.
Peters said North Korean missiles could also potentially reach New Zealand, but he had not seen any papers saying that New Zealand was a target.
“In the end, the real point is that no country’s going to be safe in this circumstance. Being where we are might look temporarily fine, but it would be a disaster for us wherever it happens – if it was to happen.”
Peters visited North Korea as Foreign Minister in 2007 – but he would not comment on whether he might visit again.