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Freeland pledges support for U.S. as tensions escalate with North Korea

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland talks to reporters about NAFTA outside the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on May 18, 2017.

Fred Chartrand/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said North Korea's nuclear missile program poses a "grave threat to the world" as she pledged Canada's full support to the United States in the escalating war of words between Washington and Pyongyang.

Ms. Freeland, answering questions for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump threatened "fire and fury" upon North Korea in the face of the rogue country's nuclear-missile tests, said the global community is united in condemning Pyongyang.

"What North Korea is doing is absolutely unacceptable, and is posing an unacceptable security threat both in the region and to the entire world," Ms. Freeland said Friday in Edmonton, after a meeting with agriculture groups in the lead-up to next week's North American free-trade talks.

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"We are also very clear that we stand by all of our allies, very much including the United States. When they are threatened, we are there."

She did not expand on what Canada's support would entail.

Still, Ms. Freeland highlighted the need for a peaceful resolution with North Korea, noting she met with the country's Foreign Affairs Minister, Ri Yong-ho, earlier this week on the sidelines at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations conference in Manila. She also met with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"We're very involved working with our international partners to seek a resolution, a de-escalation, to really get North Korea to understand it must get off this path which is so destructive for North Korea and for the world," Ms. Freeland said.

Ms. Freeland, who also travelled to Beijing this week, noted the role China played in joining the international community to impose stricter new economic sanctions on North Korea. The United Nations Security Council on Saturday unanimously adopted a resolution to impose new sanctions against North Korea over its refusal to comply with a ban on testing nuclear bombs and missiles. China, North Korea's closest ally, voted in support of the sanctions, a demonstration of its increasing frustration with Pyongyang.

"I'm very pleased that China took that step," she said.

Ms. Freeland's remarks come as Toronto pastor Hyeon Soo Lim makes his way back to Canada after being freed this week from a North Korean prison. Mr. Lim, who visited the country more than 100 times on humanitarian missions, was sentenced in December, 2015, to a lifetime of hard labour after being accused of attempting to overthrow the regime.

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"He's a very, very brave man and I'm relieved and so happy he's being released," Ms. Freeland said, noting the tireless work of Mr. Lim's family in trying to bring him home.

Ms. Freeland said Mr. Lim's release is the result of strong diplomatic efforts, including the work of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's national-security adviser, Daniel Jean, who led a Canadian delegation to North Korea this week, as well as Sweden, which has an embassy in Pyongyang and aids Canada in consular matters.

"We were clear with North Korea that Pastor Lim needed to be released, and we were very, very glad that that happened," she said.

"We've also been very clear with North Korea, both in direct conversations and publicly, that their nuclear program is a grave threat to the world, that it is something that must be stopped."

In its recent defence-policy review, the Liberal government said Canada will continue to remain outside of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile program. Former prime minister Paul Martin opted not to join the U.S. program in 2005.

Asked whether Canada should rethink its policy on the anti-ballistic missile program, Ms. Freeland did not directly answer the question. Rather, she said it is important to focus on the source of the problem at hand: North Korea.

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"An advantage that the international community has right now is our unity and our clarity in focusing on what the problem is," Ms. Freeland said. "The problem is North Korea's actions, which are threatening, which are disturbing and endangering the security of the region and of the world. So let's not be distracted from where the problem is."

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Parliamentary reporter

Laura Stone is a reporter in The Globe's Ottawa bureau. She joined The Globe in February 2016. Before that, she was an online and TV reporter for Global News in Ottawa. Laura has done stints at the Toronto Star, Postmedia News and the Vancouver Province. More

Parliamentary reporter

Michelle Zilio is a reporter in The Globe and Mail’s Ottawa bureau. Previously, she was the associate producer of CTV’s Question Period and a political writer for CTVNews.ca. Michelle has also worked as a parliamentary reporter for iPolitics, covering foreign affairs, defence and immigration, and as a city desk reporter at the Ottawa Citizen. More

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