US ready to al­low NK sanc­tions ex­emp­tion to com­bat virus

The Korea Times - - FRONT PAGE -

WASH­ING­TON/SEOUL (Reuters) — The United States is “deeply con­cerned” about the pos­si­ble im­pact of a coro­n­avirus out­break in North Korea and is pre­pared to fa­cil­i­tate ef­forts by U.S. and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions con­tain the spread of the virus there, the State De­part­ment said on Thurs­day.

“We strongly sup­port and en­cour­age the work of U.S. and in­ter­na­tional aid and health or­ga­ni­za­tions to counter and con­tain the spread of coro­n­avirus in the DPRK,” spokes­woman Mor­gan Orta­gus said af­ter the Red Cross called for an urgent ex­emp­tion to sanc­tions on Py­ongyang to help pre­vent a coro­n­avirus out­break.

“The United States is ready and pre­pared to ex­pe­di­tiously fa­cil­i­tate the ap­proval of as­sis­tance from these or­ga­ni­za­tions,” Orta­gus added in a state­ment.

The In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Red Cross and Red Cres­cent So­ci­eties said ear­lier that a sanc­tions ex­emp­tion al­low­ing for a bank trans­fer to the IFRC coun­try of­fice in North Korea was “es­sen­tial as a life-sav­ing in­ter­ven­tion.”

It said there was an urgent need for per­sonal pro­tec­tive gear and test­ing kits to pre­pare for a pos­si­ble out­break in North Korea, which borders China where the virus was first iden­ti­fied.

In­ter­na­tional sanc­tions bar a wide range of business, trade, and other in­ter­ac­tions with North Korea. The sanc­tions were im­posed over the coun­try’s nu­clear weapons and bal­lis­tic mis­sile pro­grams, which were de­vel­oped in de­fi­ance of U.N. Se­cu­rity Council res­o­lu­tions.

The United States has led in­ter­na­tional ef­forts to push North Korea to give up its nu­clear weapons but has failed to per­suade the North Kore­ans to re­turn to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table af­ter they walked away from talks in Stock­holm in Oc­to­ber.

The talks have stalled since last year over an in­abil­ity to rec­on­cile North Korea’s de­mands for sanc­tions re­lief and other con­ces­sions and U.S. de­mands for North Korea to de­nu­cle­arize.

North Korea has not con­firmed any cases of the new coro­n­avirus, but state me­dia said the gov­ern­ment was ex­tend­ing the quar­an­tine pe­riod for people show­ing symp­toms to 30 days, and all gov­ern­ment in­sti­tu­tions and for­eign­ers liv­ing in the coun­try were ex­pected to com­ply “un­con­di­tion­ally.”

Al­ready one of the most closed-off coun­tries in the world, North Korea has stopped air­line flights and train ser­vice with its neigh­bors, es­tab­lished weeks-long manda­tory quar­an­tines for re­cently ar­rived for­eign­ers, sus­pended in­ter­na­tional tourism, and im­posed a near-com­plete lock­down on cross-bor­der travel.

Some South Korean me­dia out­lets have re­ported mul­ti­ple cases and pos­si­ble deaths from the virus in North Korea, but World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion of­fi­cials based in Py­ongyang told Voice of Amer­ica that they have not been no­ti­fied of any con­firmed cases.

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