By Chae Yun-hwan
SEOUL, Oct. 20 (Yonhap) — North Korea is unlikely to refuse joint humanitarian support from South Korea and the United States, a senior unification ministry official said Wednesday, as the allies intensify consultations on how to bring the North back to dialogue.
Seoul and Washington have been proactively seeking to come up with measures, including humanitarian aid, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. agrees, in principle, on the need for providing the North with assistance related to health care, virus control, drinking water and hygiene, the official told reporters on the condition of anonymity.
“There has been no joint humanitarian cooperation so far between South Korea and the U.S. (for North Korea). So, the North is unlikely to see it negatively,” the official added. “Once the COVID-19 situation improves, in that sense, I don’t think North Korea will blindly refuse humanitarian cooperation.”
Speaking during a parliamentary audit session earlier this week, Unification Minister Lee In-young said progress is being made in a “considerably concrete” way with regard to the heath care and virus prevention fields in the allies’ plan to push jointly for humanitarian cooperation.
North Korea has tightened border controls since the outbreak of the coronavirus, clamping down on sea and land routes for key materials and medical supplies sent by U.N. agencies and other humanitarian groups.
The official, meanwhile, said it is too early to give up hope for a breakthrough in inter-Korean ties and the Korea peace process from the Beijing Winter Olympics, slated for early next year.
“There is still enough time, and it is a very important time from now on,” the official said.