Canada minister spoke to North Korean counterpart ahead of pastor's release

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said she spoke briefly with her North Korean counterpart at a meeting in Manila on Sunday, days before Pyongyang released Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim from a prison where he was serving a life sentence.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland gestures as she speaks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (not pictured) during their meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing, China, 09 August 2017. REUTERS/Wu Hong/Pool

“We were clear with North Korea that Pastor Lim needed to be released, and we are very, very glad that happened,” Freeland told reporters at a press conference on Friday, a day after Lim arrived in Japan en route to his home in a Toronto suburb.

Freeland said the conversation with North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong-ho occurred Sunday on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting of foreign ministers.

Lim, who served as pastor of one of Canada’s largest churches, had been sentenced to hard labor for life in December 2015 after North Korea accused him of attempting to overthrow the regime.

Lim’s family said on Thursday he is healthy and not in critical condition.

Freeland also said Canada is united with its allies in calling for North Korea to stop its nuclear program.

“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.”

Tensions on the Korean Peninsula escalated further this week as the United States and North Korea exchanged a series of threats, with U.S. President Donald Trump tweeting on Friday that the U.S. military was “locked and loaded”.

Asked about Trump’s language on North Korea, Freeland said Canada stands by all of its allies, including the United States.

“We need to seek ways to de-escalate the situation,” she said.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Jim Finkle and James Dalgleish