OTTAWA — The rising tensions with North Korea and Iran have injected a new urgency into Canada’s G8 security agenda, which faced being overshadowed by economic recovery talks at next month’s round of summits.
The Harper government said it would use its G8 presidency to take North Korea to task for the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship, a senior government official said Thursday.
An international civilian-military investigation concluded that a North Korean torpedo sank the Cheonan, a South Korean corvette, killing 46 sailors in the region’s worst military disaster since the Korean War.
North Korea raised the spectre of “all-out war” in response to international condemnation — including Canada’s — ratcheting tensions to new levels in the Korean Peninsula.
While Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon also blasted North Korea, he made clear that Iran’s nuclear ambitions posed a more serious threat to global peace.
“If it is not contained, Iran’s nuclear program runs the risk of leading to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and seriously undermining the international non-proliferation regime,” Cannon said Thursday.
“That situation could very quickly become the most serious crisis, and the most dangerous crisis facing our generation.”
Cannon offered that assessment in a speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations that refocused attention on the daunting security agenda that awaits G8 leaders when they meet in Huntsville, Ont., next month.
Cannon’s remarks echoed those of many analysts who have argued that despite the danger posed by North Korea’s possession of a nuclear bomb, the bigger worry is Iran’s nuclear ambitions because they could embolden other Middle East countries to pursue weapons of mass destruction.
In recent weeks, the G8 was becoming increasingly overshadowed by the G20 and its economic focus. The G20 immediately follows G8 in Toronto.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this week that all other issues were a “sideshow” to the global economic recovery as Canada prepared to host the two summits.
But as the week as unfolded, the United States announced that it had won over China and Russia with a proposal for a fourth round of sanctions on Iran. The West, including Canada, does not believe Iran is pursuing nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes.
That was followed by Wednesday night’s announcement blaming North Korea for the Cheonan sinking.
Canada still views the United Nations Security Council as the main forum for dealing with the Pyongyang regime, said the government official.
North Korea and Iran were to feature in G8 discussions about nuclear non-proliferation, but this week’s developments are expected to draw closer attention from the leaders.
“This will give some focus to the G8 conversation and an agenda, which was struggling to remain relevant on the big issues of the day,” said Fen Hampson, head of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Ottawa’s Carleton University.
Canada pushed a broader security agenda when it hosted G8 foreign ministers in March by highlighting the need to help so-called fragile states.
In Thursday’s speech, Cannon said it is “sad reality” that many countries are subjected to growing threats from organized crime, drug trafficking and arms proliferation.
“I am particularly concerned about the extreme vulnerability of certain countries that are lacking appropriate and responsible institutions that would allow them to correct these vulnerabilities.”
In light of Thursday’s developments in Asia, Cannon reiterated that Canada fully supports its democratic ally South Korea.
Cannon said a handful of Canadian military experts contributed to an international investigation that concluded there was no other “plausible explanation” for the sinking.
“Canada strongly condemns this violent act of aggression by the North Korean regime, which has once again demonstrated reckless and unacceptable behaviour,” Cannon said.
“We are closely consulting with South Korea and our allies and we will continue to support South Korea in the best way forward to take North Korea to task.”
In his speech, Cannon said North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il has continued to demonstrate his disregard for nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament.
Cannon noted that his fellow G8 foreign ministers, who met near Ottawa in the days following the Cheonan sinking, urged North Korea to return to Six Party Talks, without preconditions.