US diplomat worried about pandemic, food supply in N Korea

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A visitor watches a display board showing major guide weapons of the South Korean armed forces at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Fri… A visitor watches a display board showing major guide weapons of the South Korean armed forces at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won’t do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, right, walks with South Korean First Vice Foreig… In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, right, walks with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun after their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. America’s No. 2 diplomat on Friday expressed sympathy for North Koreans facing hardships and food shortages linked to the pandemic, and renewed calls for the North to return to talks over its nuclear program. (South Korea Foreign Ministry via AP)

A visitor watches air-launched guided missiles used by the South Korean Air Force at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23,… A visitor watches air-launched guided missiles used by the South Korean Air Force at Korea War Memorial Museum in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won’t do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, second from left, talks to journalists as South … In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, second from left, talks to journalists as South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun listens after their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. America’s No. 2 diplomat on Friday expressed sympathy for North Koreans facing hardships and food shortages linked to the pandemic, and renewed calls for the North to return to talks over its nuclear program. (South Korea Foreign Ministry via AP)

In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, right, holds talks with South Korean First Vice … In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, right, holds talks with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun, left, during their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won’t do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility. (South Korea Foreign Ministry via AP)

In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks during a meeting with South Korean First V… In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman speaks during a meeting with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won’t do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility. (South Korea Foreign Ministry via AP)

In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, bumps elbows with South Korean First Vice … In this photo provided by South Korea Foreign Ministry, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, left, bumps elbows with South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong Kun prior to their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, July 23, 2021. Top U.S. and South Korean officials agreed Thursday to try to convince North Korea to return to talks on its nuclear program, which Pyongyang has insisted it won’t do in protest of what it calls U.S. hostility. (South Korea Foreign Ministry via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — America’s No. 2 diplomat on Friday expressed sympathy for North Koreans facing hardships and food shortages linked to the coronavirus pandemic and renewed calls for the North to return to talks over its nuclear program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recently warned of a “tense” food situation and admitted his country faces “the worst-ever” crisis. But his government has steadfastly insisted it won’t rejoin the talks unless Washington drops its hostility.

“We all feel for the people of the DPRK, who are indeed facing all the most difficult circumstances given the pandemic, and what it means as well for their food security,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters in Seoul, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We only hope for a better outcome for the people of the DPRK,” she said.

Sherman spoke after meeting South Korean officials, during which both reaffirmed that they will continue diplomatic efforts to convince North Korea to return to the nuclear talks.

“We are looking forward to a reliable, predictable, constructive way forward with the DPRK,” Sherman said. “We have offered to sit and dialogue with the North Koreans, and we are waiting to hear from them.”

Speaking beside Sherman, South Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Choi Jong Kun, said, “We’ll wait for a North Korean response with patience as now is the coronavirus period.”

The talks between Washington and Pyongyang have made little headway since early 2019, when a second summit between Kim and then-President Donald Trump collapsed due to wrangling over U.S.-led economic sanctions. Kim has since threatened to bolster his nuclear arsenal and build more sophisticated weapons unless the Americans lift their hostile policy, an apparent reference to the sanctions.

Some experts say North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States if its economic difficulties worsen. Outside monitoring groups haven’t reported any signs of mass starvation or social chaos in North Korea. In recent speeches, Kim has called for his 26 million people to brace for prolonged COVID-19 restrictions, indicating the country wasn’t ready to reopen its borders despite the massive toll on its economy.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers this month that North Korea hasn’t received any foreign coronavirus vaccine. COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year. But UNICEF, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of COVAX, said recently that North Korea hasn’t even completed the paperwork for receiving the vaccines and that it was unclear when they could be delivered.

After Seoul, Sherman is to travel to Mongolia and then China, the North’s last major ally and benefactor. She will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden was inaugurated in January.

During her visit to the northeastern Chinese city of Tianjin on Sunday, Sherman said she will discuss North Korea with Chinese officials, saying Beijing “certainly has interests and thought” on it.

“The Biden administration has described our relationships with China as obviously a complicated one. It has aspects that are competitive, it has aspects where it is challenging and aspects where we can cooperate,” she said. “And thinking together about bringing the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is certainly an area for cooperation.”

Choi said China knows it can play “a very important role” in efforts to bring back North Korea to talks. He said Sherman’s China trip would be “very meaningful” and that Seoul and Washington have a shared responsibility for Beijing to play its role.

Ahead of the meeting with Sherman, China has adopted a confrontational tone, reflecting the sharp deterioration in relations that began under Trump and continued under Biden.

The U.S. is “defining China as a competitor, provoking confrontation, and containing and suppressing China’s development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing in Beijing. “The U.S. side has been calling for dialogue with China from a position of strength, which only reflects its arrogance and hegemony.”

The Foreign Ministry later announced sanctions against seven Americans, which it called a response to U.S. sanctions last week against seven Chinese officials in Hong Kong and a warning to U.S. companies about the risks of doing business in the semi-autonomous territory.

The sanctioned Americans include former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch. The ministry did not specify what the sanctions would be.

“We’re undeterred by these actions,” U.S. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news briefing Friday. “These actions are the latest examples of how Beijing punishes private citizens, companies and civil society organizations as a way to send political signals and further illustrate (China’s) deteriorating investment climate and rising political risks."

U.S. envoy frets about N. Korea crises

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SEOUL, South Korea – America’s No. 2 diplomat Friday expressed sympathy for North Koreans facing hardships and food shortages linked to the coronavirus pandemic and renewed calls for the North to return to talks over its nuclear program.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has recently warned of a “tense” food situation and admitted his country faces “the worst-ever” crisis. But his government has steadfastly insisted it won’t rejoin the talks unless Washington drops its hostility, an apparent reference to U.S. sanctions.

“We all feel for the people of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], who are indeed facing all the most difficult circumstances given the pandemic, and what it means as well for their food security,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters in Seoul.

“We only hope for a better outcome for the people,” she said.

Sherman spoke after meeting South Korean officials, with both nations reaffirming that they will continue diplomatic efforts to persuade North Korea to return to the nuclear talks.

“We are looking forward to a reliable, predictable, constructive way forward with the DPRK,” Sherman said. “We have offered to sit and dialogue with the North Koreans, and we are waiting to hear from them.”

Speaking beside Sherman, South Korea’s first vice foreign minister, Choi Jong Kun, said, “We’ll wait for a North Korean response with patience, as now is the coronavirus period.”

Some experts say North Korea may be compelled to reach out to the United States if its economic difficulties worsen, although outside monitoring groups haven’t reported any signs of mass starvation or social chaos in North Korea.

In recent speeches, Kim has called for his 26 million people to brace for prolonged covid-19 restrictions, indicating the country wasn’t ready to reopen its borders despite the toll on its economy.

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers this month that North Korea hasn’t received any foreign vaccine.

Covax, the U.N.-backed program to ship vaccines worldwide, said in February that North Korea could receive 1.9 million doses in the first half of the year. But UNICEF, which procures and delivers vaccines on behalf of Covax, said recently that North Korea hasn’t even completed the paperwork for receiving the vaccines and that it was unclear when they could be delivered.

After Seoul, Sherman is to travel to Mongolia and then China, the North’s last major ally and benefactor. She will be the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit China since President Joe Biden was inaugurated in January.

Sherman said she will discuss North Korea with Chinese officials, saying Beijing “certainly has interests and thought” on it.

“The Biden administration has described our relationship with China as obviously a complicated one. It has aspects that are competitive, it has aspects where it is challenging and aspects where we can cooperate,” she said. “And thinking together about bringing the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is certainly an area for cooperation.”

However, China has adopted a confrontational tone, reflecting the sharp deterioration in relations with Washington.

The U.S. is “defining China as a competitor, provoking confrontation, and containing and suppressing China’s development,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said at a daily briefing in Beijing. “The U.S. side has been calling for dialogue with China from a position of strength, which only reflects its arrogance and hegemony.”

U.S. seeks ‘reliable, predictable’ way forward with N. Korea

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FILE PHOTO: Bystanders holding North Korea and U.S. flags wait for the motorcade of U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang reuters_tickers

This content was published on July 23, 2021 - 07:23

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) -The United States is seeking a “reliable, predictable and constructive” way to secure progress in stalled denuclearisation talks with North Korea, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Friday.

Sherman made the remarks following a meeting with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choi Jong-kun in Seoul on the second leg of her Asian tour.

The two sides discussed how to reopen negotiations after North Korea brushed off the Biden administration’s proposals for talks, casting a cloud over prospects for dismantling its nuclear and missile programmes.

“We are looking forward to a reliable, predictable, constructive way forward with the DPRK,” Sherman told reporters, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“We all feel for the people of the DPRK who are indeed facing all of the most difficult circumstances given the pandemic and what it means as well for their food security.”

While North Korea has not reported any coronavirus cases, leader Kim Jong Un said the food situation was “tense,” citing the pandemic that led to North Korea closing its border with China, disrupting trade, and a typhoon last year that damaged crops.

Sherman, who has considerable experience in dealing with North Korea, said the United States had offered to “sit and dialogue”, reiterating hopes she expressed on Thursday for an early response.

Sherman said despite “complicated” relations with China, she was looking forward to discussing the North Korea issue when she goes to Beijing on Sunday.

“It has aspects that are competitive. It has aspects where it is challenging and aspects where we can cooperate,” she said, referring to Sino-U.S. ties.

“Thinking together about bringing the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is certainly an area for cooperation.”

Sherman also called for more cooperation between South Korea and the United States on tackling the coronavirus and climate change and building “secure and resilient” supply chains for semiconductors and 5G telecom networks.

Choi said U.S. leadership, South Korea’s capabilities and Japan’s financial resources should be combined to address issues such as the pandemic and climate change.

Both sides agreed to intensify efforts to ramp up global COVID-19 vaccine supplies in line with a vaccine partnership forged during a summit in May between President Moon Jae-in and President Joe Biden, South Korea’s foreign ministry said.

Sherman met Moon and other top officials after arriving in Seoul from Tokyo late on Wednesday and is scheduled to leave for Mongolia on Friday before visiting China.

(Reporting by Hyonhee ShinEditing by Robert Birsel)