The conference began in the Canadian city of Vancouver on Tuesday. Participants, among them countries with little or no relevance to the Korean dispute, agreed to consider tougher sanctions against North Korea.
The Foreign Ministry of Russia, which is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and shares borders with North Korea, said in a statement on Wednesday that the unilateral nature of the Vancouver conference decisions undercut efforts to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.
“It is an absolutely unacceptable situation when 17 countries take upon themselves the role of ‘helper’ to the UN Security Council and interpreter of its resolutions, thereby actually putting its authority in doubt,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said. “Such events, conducted hastily and to the detriment of functioning multilateral formats, are not contributing to the normalization of the situation around the Korean Peninsula, but on the contrary, aggravating it.”
Relations between South and North Koreas have long been marked by tensions. They fought a war back in the early 1950s, and while that war ended with a truce, Seoul and Pyongyang never signed a peace deal. Tensions ran especially high last year, when North Korea test-launched several missiles and the South engaged in increased joint military activity with the US.
But more recently, the two Koreas have been attempting to break out of the cycle of tensions. North Korea initiated a series of overtures when, on New Year’s Day, it declared willingness for dialog and participation in Winter Olympics in South Korea. Seoul responded positively, and they soon held first one and then another round of talks and reached significant understandings.
The Vancouver conference came exactly in the middle of those inter-Korean efforts, which have been welcomed by both Russia and China, another country pivotal to the Korean dispute.
Neither Russia nor China had been invited to the Vancouver conference, according to reports.
China, too, had earlier criticized the conference, whose participants were the countries that backed South Korea during the 1950-53 Korean War.
Beijing had called the summit “meaningless,” saying that the event would “only create divisions” and set back rather than advance peace efforts on the Korean Peninsula.
Responding to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, US Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein said that the Vancouver conference had been planned for months.
“It is not factually accurate to say that the event was conducted hastily. This has been many months in the planning,” Goldstein said.
“We believe that this is another step forward in ensuring that the sanctions hold tight,” he said, apparently referring to the rounds of UNSC sanctions imposed on North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs.
North Korea’s adversaries have formerly accused Russia and China of helping Pyongyang evade sanctions.
Goldstein said Moscow and Beijing would be briefed on the summit.
Pyongyang defends its weapons programs as a deterrent against potential foreign aggression. The North views joint the frequent war games between the US and South Korea and Japan as rehearsals for war, and has repeatedly urged Seoul and Tokyo to stop participating in those drills.
In December, the UN Security Council (UNSC) unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea for a recent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test, seeking to further limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil.
The Wednesday statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry said the decision to consider imposing unilateral sanctions against North Korea went beyond the UNSC resolutions and was “absolutely unacceptable and counterproductive.”