OTTAWA – The world needs to be “careful” to ensure historic talks between North and South Korea lead to a nuclear-free peninsula, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Friday as she welcomed a pledge by leaders of the two nations to work toward a formal end to hostilities.
“We all need to be careful and not assume anything,” Freeland said in Washington when asked whether Canada has any concerns with what has emerged as the early stages of a fledgling peace process.
The focus has to remain on the issue of nuclear proliferation, said Freeland, who was in the U.S. capital for the ongoing NAFTA negotiations.
“That is the Canadian concern, that is the focus of Canadian sanctions and that is the focus of this diplomatic process, which we really welcome and encourage.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in issued a joint statement Friday pledging to seek a formal end to the Korean War by year’s end and to rid the shared peninsula of nuclear weapons.
However, the statement did not provide specific details on precisely how that would be achieved.
Their historic meeting, which saw for the first time saw a North Korean leader venture south of the demarcation line between the two Koreas, came after a year of often escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the North’s testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, ramping up fears of a potential attack on the U.S. mainland.
Those tensions appeared to peak in January, just as Canada co-hosted a Korea summit with the United States in Vancouver.
But they eased as the leaders of both countries embraced overtures from one another during the February Olympic Games held in South Korea.
The North has spent decades building up an atomic arsenal as a deterrent against an invasion, either from its southern counterpart or from the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump – who claimed credit Friday for facilitating the meeting – said he believes North Korea’s motives are sincere, although he acknowledged concerns over being “played” by the notoriously non-committal Kim regime.
But the Trump administration won’t fall prey to false overtures the way previous U.S. governments have, he added .
“I agree, the United States has been played beautifully, like a fiddle, because you had a different kind of a leader,” Trump said. “We’re not going to be played.”
WATCH: Trump says U.S. “not going to be played” by North Korea in wake of peace deal
For many Canadians, especially those who fought in the Korean conflict, any prospect for a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula would be welcome, said Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole.
“I think that’s historic,” O’Toole said of the pledge to finally go beyond an armistice. “Canadians fought and died in the Korean War … In fact, just the other day, we celebrated the end of the Battle of Kapyong.
More than 26,000 Canadians served in the Korean War from around the time it began in June 1950 until the active fighting ended on July 27, 1953, with approximately 7,000 remaining stationed in the peninsula until August 1957.
In all, 516 Canadians died in what is the third-deadliest conflict in Canadian history, says Veterans Affairs Canada.