US diplomat worried about pandemic, food supply in N Korea

Jul 23, 2021, 12:02 AM | Updated: 12:39 pm

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.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A Ukrainian serviceman sits on a T-80 tank that they claimed had been captured from the Russian arm...
Associated Press

Ukrainian troops claim gains in Russia-annexed region

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian troops pushed forward Monday with their offensive that has embarrassed Moscow, with Kyiv officials and foreign observers hinting at new gains in the strategic southern region of Kherson that the Kremlin wants to annex. Kherson has been one of the toughest battlefields for the Ukrainians, with slower progress when compared […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Poland demands $1.3 trillion in war damages from Germany

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s foreign minister on Monday signed an official note to Germany requesting the payment of some $1.3 trillion in reparations for the damage incurred by occupying Nazi Germans during World War II. Zbigniew Rau said the note will be handed to Germany’s Foreign Ministry. The signing comes on the eve of […]
6 hours ago
Google's web address, is displayed on a screen in Philadelphia, April 26, 2017. Google has disconti...
Associated Press

Google discontinues Google Translate in mainland China

HONG KONG (AP) — Google has discontinued its Google Translate services in mainland China, removing one of the company’s few remaining services that it had provided in a country where most Western social media platforms are blocked. The Google Translate app and website now display a generic search bar and a link redirecting Chinese users […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Kimberly Palmer: How to handle your medical bills

When she was 19, writer Emily Maloney found herself facing about $50,000 in medical debt after hospital treatment for a mental health crisis. The debt followed her throughout her twenties, hurting her credit and leading to stressful calls from collection agencies. Her experience is all too common: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that about […]
6 hours ago
Associated Press

Jerzy Urban, spokesman for Polish communist govt, dies at 89

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Jerzy Urban, a spokesman for Poland’s communist-era government in the 1980s who masterminded state propaganda and censorship for a regime in the final years before its collapse, has died. He was 89. His death was announced on Monday by a satirical weekly magazine, Nie (No), which he founded and led in […]
6 hours ago
A shadow is cast on the stage of the Trafo House of Contemporary Arts while technicians set up the ...
Associated Press

Music stops: Energy costs close Hungary theaters for winter

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — A theater in Hungary’s capital will sit through a cold and quiet winter after its managers chose to shut it down rather than pay skyrocketing utility prices that are putting a squeeze on businesses and cultural institutions across Europe. The 111-year-old Erkel Theatre in Budapest, one of three performance spaces of […]
6 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Here are 4 signs the HVAC unit needs to be replaced

Pool renovations and kitchen upgrades may seem enticing, but at the forefront of these investments arguably should be what residents use the most. In a state where summertime is sweltering, access to a functioning HVAC unit can be critical.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
US diplomat worried about pandemic, food supply in N Korea