The Biden administration is facing calls to review sanctions that stifle humanitarian efforts in North Korea, even as Kim Jong Un’s regime rejected talks with the United States and Strictly closed the pandemic border.
Senator Edward Markey and Representative Andy Levine, both Democrats, sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging the administration to ease Treasury Department rules that limit humanitarian aid to North Korea.
In a letter dated November 5, lawmakers wrote “the dire situation in North Korea reverses US policies that block private humanitarian aid shipments and prevent private aid workers from traveling there”.
Markey and Levine also called on the State Department to expedite special verification passports for American humanitarian workers.
The letter comes as North Korea has largely rejected US calls to resume talks that have been deadlocked since October 2019 and the regime maintains a border lockdown while conducting multiple missile launches.
North Korea closed its borders in January 2020 to protect against the coronavirus. That isolation, along with natural disasters and a poorly managed centralized economy, led to widespread food shortages.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim ordered people to save every grain of rice, according to South Korea’s intelligence agency.
According to the government-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the regime encouraged people to consume black goose meat last month, promoting it as “delicious” and “high nutritional value”.
Amid a deepening food crisis, UN Special Envoy on the Human Rights Situation in North Korea, Tomas Ojia Quintana, called on the UN Security Council to consider easing sanctions affecting North Korea’s humanitarian conditions.
Quintana said on 22 October, “I recommend that the Security Council Resolution Committee, especially in the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, should re-evaluate the sanctions regime in these circumstances and, when necessary, re-evaluate those sanctions.” should reduce what these barriers bring.”
Quintana told VOA’s Korean service earlier in October that “limits on imports of fuel, machinery and spare parts have unintended effects on energy security, civil transport, agriculture, health care, sanitation and hygiene. Exports on seafood and textiles.” Sanctions affect employment. All these negatively affect the economic, social and cultural rights of the civilian population.”
China and Russia, both permanent members of the Security Council, recently called for an end to sanctions that ban the export of seafood and textiles. In a draft resolution circulated to the council, Beijing and Moscow said the restrictions should be eased “with the intention of increasing the livelihoods of the civilian population”.
The US State Department told the VOA’s Korean Service on Tuesday that it expects North Korea to be ready to accept international aid.
A State Department spokesman, using the acronym for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, North Korea’s official name, said, “We continue to support international efforts aimed at the provision of significant humanitarian aid in the hope that the DPRK will accept it.” will do.”
“The US government is involved in efforts to facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid to North Koreans in need,” the spokesman said. “This is most evident in our ongoing work to expedite approval in the 1718 Committee of the United Nations (Security Council Sanctions Committee on North Korea) for organizations around the world to provide life-saving aid to the DPRK.”
According to Keith Loos, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, life-saving humanitarian aid such as the treatment of tuberculosis and hepatitis is exempt from sanctions.
a challenge to close the border
Experts said the biggest obstacle to getting humanitarian aid to North Korea is the closure of the country’s border. He said the Kim regime should open the borders before any humanitarian action and easing restrictions could be considered.
Evans Revere, a former State Department official with extensive experience in negotiating with North Korea, said: “The main obstacle to humanitarian aid is North Korea and the barriers it has thrown close its borders.”
“Despite the current sanctions, humanitarian aid to North Korea is possible,” Revere said.
Jerome Sauvage, the UN resident coordinator in North Korea from November 2009 to January 2013, agrees that North Korea needs to reopen its borders, but believes easing sanctions will help. can.
“Right now, the border closure prevents humanitarian organizations from entering the country. They must enter the country to investigate the situation and monitor aid. Without their presence, there can be no aid,” he said.
“We can ease restrictions on humanitarian aid and still monitor aid and make sure it reaches people,” Sauvage said.
“I think there is room to improve, streamline the humanitarian exemption approval process,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. “If we simplify and improve the current process, I don’t see a need to ease restrictions for humanitarian aid.”
Scott Snyder, director of program on US-Korea policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, said: “If North Korea shows interest in advancing humanitarian cooperation with international organizations on issues related to the pandemic, I believe that Relaxation in restrictions will be forthcoming.”
North Korea rejected US efforts to provide humanitarian aid in July, calling it a “sinister political plan”.
Jiha Ham contributed to this report.