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View more articles by Hamish Macdonald
Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
The U.S. Department of State will review its policy on humanitarian assistance provided to the DPRK, U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun told reporters in Seoul on Wednesday.
Biegun made the surprise announcement shortly after arriving in Seoul, where he will stay for four days in order to discuss with South Korean counterparts issues including the ongoing U.S.-North Korea denuclearization negotiations.
“Upon my return to Washington D.C. next week, I’ve been directed by Secretary of State Pompeo to review United States policy on humanitarian assistance provided to the DPRK by private and religious American organizations,” Biegun said.
It appears that the review, however, is not intended to impede the effectiveness of sanctions, according to Arirang News.
The Special Representative also added that he will meet with American aid workers in early 2019 to discuss ways to better facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the DPRK.
“I understand many American humanitarian aid organizations operating in the DPRK are concerned the strict enforcement of international sanctions has occasionally impeded the legitimate humanitarian assistance to the Korean people,” Biegun was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“I’ll be sitting down with American aid groups early in the new year to discuss how we can better ensure the delivery of appropriate assistance, particularly through the course of the coming winter,” he added.
In response to North Korea’s increased nuclear and ballistic weapons testing activities in recent years, international sanctions against the country have expanded significantly.
While UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions state that they are not intended or designed to impede humanitarian activities, organizations and workers have reported encountering adverse consequences and an increasingly complex operational environment due to sanctions.
In order to better facilitate such deliveries, the UNSC agreed in August to adopt new guidelines to streamline the process of obtaining humanitarian exemptions from international sanctions.
Some organizations have been successful in obtaining approval from the UNSC and, on Wednesday, Biegun also added that the U.S. would continue to work with the UN to closely review exemptions for licenses to deliver humanitarian aid to North Korea.
Additional barriers also exist for U.S. aid workers following the U.S. State Department’s September 2017 decision to impose a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to the DPRK in response to concerns “over the serious risk of arrest and long-term detention” of U.S. citizens in the DPRK.
The ban was reimposed for an additional 12 months in August of this year.
U.S. citizens working in certain sectors are able to apply for exemptions in order to travel to the DPRK, and this typically includes humanitarian workers, journalists, diplomats, or those working in the “national interest”.
However, in 2018, American humanitarian workers have increasingly complained that their applications for exemptions were being rejected by the State Department.
While a State Department official told NK News in October that such rejections were “not part of a broader pressure campaign,” the U.S. Government has come under criticism over the decisions.
CNN reported on Wednesday that a review of the travel ban would take place, but said that neither Biegun nor other officials would respond to questions on whether or not this meant the ban in its entirety or just as it pertains to exemptions for humanitarian aid workers.
Featured Image: U.S. Department of State