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How Canada Is Coping With North Korea

October 10, 2017, 4:08 PM UTC

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson isn’t the only North American official talking to North Korea amid escalating nuclear threats. Canada is also trying to negotiate with the nation ruled by “Little Rocket Man,” as President Trump has nicknamed Kim Jong-un.

“North Korea we’re very concerned about. We’re a Pacific nation as well,” Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Foreign Minister, said Tuesday at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit in Washington, D.C.

Freeland, who serves in the cabinet of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, said she and her colleagues “have been working closely with the United States with Secretary Tillerson” to neutralize risks posed by North Korea and its increasingly powerful missile arsenal.

Tillerson admitted for the first time late last month that the U.S. had “lines of communication to Pyongyang” in North Korea, saying, “We can talk to them, we do talk to them.”

Though Trump has criticized Tillerson for “wasting his time” with that approach, Freeland voiced support for it at the conference Tuesday. “I also think with North Korea, it’s important to keep some lines of communication open,” she said. “It is possible to have some conversations.”

For example, a dispute arose recently between the countries when North Korea imprisoned Canadian missionary and pastor Hyeon Soo Lim. Despite Canada’s lack of an official diplomatic relationship with North Korea, Trudeau’s national security advisor, Daniel Jean, traveled to the isolated Asian country in August; a day later, the prisoner, better known as Pastor Lim, flew back to Canada the following day.

“We can have conversations even as we have serious concerns and say this is not acceptable,” Freeland said.

Still, she has a less than rosy outlook on geopolitical issues in general, describing what she sees as a “fracture” in the 70-year-old system of international economic cooperation. “I think that this is probably the most uncertain moment in international relations since the Second World War,” she added.

As for dealing with tensions in North Korea, there’s another key prong in Canada’s strategy: South Korea, which Freeland called an important ally. “Because if we’re feeling anxious about North Korea, imagine how South Korea feels,” she said.