U.S. lawmakers introduce bill to expedite humanitarian aid to N. Korea

April 14, 2020

Two U.S. lawmakers have announced the introduction of a bill calling for streamlined procedures to expedite the delivery of humanitarian aid to North Korea.

The bill, named the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act, was announced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI) on Monday.

“I firmly believe that multilateral pressure is necessary to support our diplomacy with North Korea in order to keep the American people safe from the murderous Kim regime,” Markey, ranking member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement posted on his website.

“But we must not stand in the way when selfless humanitarians seek to give North Koreans a chance against hunger and deadly infectious diseases,” he said, adding that sanctions programs are “not successful” if they prevent basic humanitarian assistance.

The bill comes amid persisting concerns that North Korea may be suffering a coronavirus outbreak, despite Pyongyang’s insistence that it has no cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

“Delivering desperately needed humanitarian aid to the North Korean people is in the best interest of the United States — never more so than right now,” Levin, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Asia Subcommittee, said.

“Ending a global pandemic requires a completely global response. If the virus proliferates uncontrolled in any country, it continues to pose a huge risk to American public health and safety. In the interest of global health, and for the North Korean people, we must ensure we aren’t standing in the way of lifesaving work,” he said.

If enacted, the bill would require the Treasury Department to expand sanctions exemptions for North Korea for humanitarian purposes.

One of the actions recommended is to waive the requirement for special licenses, for goods that support humanitarian projects in North Korea. Food and medicine are already exempted.

The legislation requires the U.S. to use its influence at the United Nations to expedite humanitarian sanctions exemptions and ease application procedures for nongovernmental organizations.

It also requires the secretary of state to brief Congress on a strategy to simplify travel authorizations for humanitarian work in North Korea.

The U.S. has made clear its intention to assist North Korea with the coronavirus pandemic, including in a personal letter sent from President Donald Trump to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The North has made no public indication it will accept the offer.