US to Ease Limits on Humanitarian Aid to N Korea

14-Jan-2019 Intellasia | Foreignpolicy | 6:00 AM Print This Post

Aid groups welcome the move, but it’s not likely to unlock stalled nuclear negotiations.

he US State Department has decided to ease some of its most stringent restrictions on humanitarian assistance to North Korea, lifting travel restrictions on American aid workers and loosening its block on humanitarian supplies destined for the country, according to several diplomats and relief workers.

The decisionwhich was communicated to humanitarian aid organisations on Wednesday by Stephen Biegun, the US senior envoy for North Koreafollows claims by United Nations and private relief agencies in recent months that the US policy was undermining their efforts to run life-saving relief operations. Those include programmes designed to combat infectious diseases, such as cholera and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

The move marked the first significant step in months by the Trump administration to relax its “maximum pressure” campaign on Pyongyang. But it’s unclear whether the action was conceived as a goodwill gesture to Kim Jong Un’s regime to help facilitate further nuclear talks or was a response to mounting diplomatic pressure to soften a policy that threatened the lives of North Korean civilians.

Frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided in the summer to sharply limit the amount of aid allowed into North Korea. As a result, US officials routinely delayed the export of surgical equipment for hospitals, stainless steel milk containers for orphanages, and supplies for fighting tuberculosis and malaria.

But the effort led to protests from humanitarian relief organisations and left the United States diplomatically isolated at the UN The drama has been playing out behind closed doors in a UN sanctions committee, where the United States has used its influence to block or delay requests by relief groups to deliver assistance to North Korea.

In a confidential December 10, 2018, letter to the UN sanctions committee, Omar Abdi, the deputy executive director for the UN Children’s Fund, or Unicef, complained that the US holds on medical and relief supplies, including ambulances and solar generators needed to power tuberculosis clinics, were undermining the agency’s effort to fight the disease. Unicef’s North Korea programmes, he warned, “may be compromised if the shipment of these outstanding items does not take place on an urgent basis.”

Jung Pak, a former CIA analyst and North Korea expert at the Brookings Institution, praised the US decision on humanitarian grounds but said it is unlikely to help advance nuclear talks.

“Reopening humanitarian assistance is the right thing to do,” she said. “But I doubt that this is going to be enough for Kim to now say, ‘I can make progress with Secretary Pompeo.’”

The Trump administration’s pressure campaign on North Korea ramped up after Pyongyang launched an intercontinental ballistic missile, spurring the Security Council to pass in December 2017 a sanctions resolution. The resolutionwhich targeted North Korea’s energy and export sectorsallowed exemptions for the delivery of humanitarian aid, as long as it was approved by the Security Council sanctions committee. The sanctions are designed to pressure North Korea to enter negotiations aimed at the elimination of its nuclear weapons programme.

Since President Donald Trump’s summit in Singapore with Kim last June, diplomatic progress on North Korean nuclear negotiations have stalled as Pyongyang continues to develop its missile programmes and dodge overtures from Trump’s senior diplomats. North Korean officials, for example, have spurned the State Department’s requests to meet with Biegun for months. This past November, the State Department announced the cancellation of a planned meeting in New York between Pompeo and a top North Korean intelligence officer.

In December, John Bolton, the US national security advisor, said a second Trump-Kim summit would likely happen this January or February to revive negotiations, even though “they have not lived up to the commitments so far.”


Category: Korea

Print This Post

Comments are closed.