During a week when the two Koreas are finalizing plans for an Olympics truce, foreign ministers from a dozen countries that fought in the Korean War gather in Vancouver, Canada, for an unusual summit organized by the United States and Canada to “demonstrate international solidarity” with diplomatic efforts to stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
A principal goal of the summit, US officials say, is to win support for an aggressive program of maritime interdiction to prevent the Kim Jong-un government in North Korea from evading UN-imposed sanctions on oil, textiles, and other products. The ministerial summit was initiated in December by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will also join the meeting.
But the summit could be upstaged by 16 women representing peace groups from the United States, Canada, and other countries involved in its planning. They have come to Vancouver to press for diplomatic and economic initiatives to peacefully resolve the Korea crisis and ultimately bring a formal end to the Korean War through a peace treaty. That devastating conflict, which lasted from 1950 to 1953, ended in an armistice agreement that stopped the fighting but left the country in a perpetual state of war.
The feminists’ presence has already generated attention. On Monday, the women’s delegation was received by Canada’s Freeland and later met with Tillerson’s aides from the State Department. That evening, they held a candlelight vigil near the meeting venue and called for more women to be included in the peace and negotiating process.
“We feel it’s really important to hold these foreign ministers to account,” Christine Ahn, the founder and international coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, the prime mover behind the “Vancouver Women’s Forum,” told The Nation. “The countries that sent soldiers, doctors, and nurses to Korea as part of the US-controlled UN Command also have a responsibility to finally end the Korean War.”
“A naval blockade is not diplomacy,” added Ewa Eriksson-Fortier, a Swedish member of Women Cross DMZ who spent 30 years with the International Red Cross, including two years in 2008 and 2009 as the Head of Country Delegation in Pyongyang. Many communities in North Korea, Eriksson-Fortier said, “still basically live without proper water and sanitation.” The new UN sanctions, particularly the restrictions on oil shipments, will impact those communities by limiting their ability to transport food, take people to hospitals, and use machinery needed to dig out river beds flooded with mud and silt caused by deforestation, she said.