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N. Korea still unresponsive to S. Korea's outreach for talks on COVID-19: official

This file photo, provided by the unification ministry, shows a South Korean liaison officer talking to his North Korean counterpart at the Seoul bureau of their joint liaison office on Oct. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)
This file photo, provided by the unification ministry, shows a South Korean liaison officer talking to his North Korean counterpart at the Seoul bureau of their joint liaison office on Oct. 4, 2021. (Yonhap)

North Korea has remained unresponsive for the second day to South Korea's attempt to offer dialogue on COVID-19 medical supplies and health care cooperation, a ministry official here said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Unification had sought to deliver a related fax message to the North on Monday through their liaison office. It is seeking to hold working-level consultations on the ongoing epidemic in the impoverished neighbor and assistance in medical supplies, including vaccines, masks and test kits.

The two Koreas held their routine phone call at 9 a.m. Tuesday, but Pyongyang has not expressed its intention to accept the message yet, according to the unification ministry official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"As North Korea is aware of our stance on cooperation in disease prevention, our government will wait for the North's response without pressing it," he said, stressing that the North will need time to review whether to accept the message.

If it receives a response from Pyongyang, the ministry will take a "practical and realistic" approach to review various ways to hold the working-level consultations, including an online videoconference, the official said.

During a plenary session of the diplomacy and unification committee at the National Assembly later in the day, Unification Minister Kwon Young-se said that providing the North with assistance through international agencies can be an option.

Now that "there are numerous political considerations as to why the North has not accepted the message yet, we need to think of ways to provide assistance through international organizations or nongovernmental aid in case we end up not providing it directly," he said.

Kim Sung-han, head of the presidential National Security Office, also told lawmakers during a plenary session of the House Steering Committee at the National Assembly that it was reviewing ways to provide COVID-19 aid to North Korea.

"(We) are looking into various support measures, such as through international organizations," he said. "(We) tried to reach out for working-level talks with a message through the unification ministry, but the North is not responding."

North Korea reported a total of more than 1.48 million fever cases and 56 fatalities as of 6 p.m. Monday. (Yonhap)
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