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[Newsmaker] US says willing to help N. Korea fight coronavirus

National security adviser Robert O’Brien speaks at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Nov. 23, 2020. (AFP-Yonhap)
National security adviser Robert O’Brien speaks at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Pasay City, Metro Manila, Philippines, Nov. 23, 2020. (AFP-Yonhap)
The United States will seriously consider helping North Korea contain the spread of the coronavirus if it requests such assistance, Robert O’Brien, US President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, said Monday.

“They (North Korea) have been reticent to ask for outside help for things in the past but if they did we would certainly look at that very seriously,” O’Brien said in an interview with 19FortyFive, a website on global affairs.

He said Pyongyang appears to have avoided a mass outbreak with “draconian policies” like lockdowns and border closures. A week earlier, the North, which still claims zero COVID-19 cases, suspended all travel by land, sea and air and shut down public facilities, in its strongest antivirus response.

Experts have said such extreme measures would be a double blow to North Korea, which suffered reduced food production this year due to shrinking outside supplies and ravaging typhoons that destroyed key farmland.

O’Brien added that the US government tries to offer humanitarian assistance to countries seeking flood or pandemic relief regardless of the governing party calling for help.

Also on Monday, the United Nations Population Fund estimated they would need $2 million in humanitarian assistance for the North next year, noting they secured $1.6 million for this year. The UN agency provides reproductive health services to aid pregnant women in their childbirths.

The latest call for help shed light again on another UN body that earlier said North Korea did not qualify for international assistance next year.

“We were unable to conduct field assessments and monitor the humanitarian situation in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea because of COVID-19-related movement restrictions,” said the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, using the North’s official name.

The OCHA’s move to leave out North Korea, given the lack of credible data to fund the impoverished regime, was above board, experts told The Korea Herald

“If the DPRK refuses to allow the OCHA to operate in line with its guidelines, then it is the government‘s fault that they are not getting international assistance,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

Greg Scarlatoiu, executive director at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, agreed.

“Implementers must be accountable to donors. North Korea must learn how to work with international humanitarian assistance.”

By Choi Si-young (siyoungchoi@heraldcorp.com)
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