U.S. willing to share COVID vaccine with N. Korea if requested: report

WASHINGTON, May 11 (Yonhap) — The United States may consider sharing COVID-19 vaccines with North Korea if requested by the impoverished nation, if the vaccines will reach the intended beneficiaries, a U.S. news outlet reported Tuesday.

CNN noted the sharing of vaccines may help resume diplomatic dialogue with the North but that no request for assistance has been made.

“While we are open to considering DPRK requests for humanitarian assistance, these would need to be accompanied by effective monitoring to ensure that it reached the intended beneficiaries,” it reported, quoting an unidentified senior administration official.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

The official added there are currently no plans to share vaccines with North Korea and that the country has refused offers of assistance from South Korea and international agencies, such as COVAX.

North Korea, instead, has taken painful steps to prevent a mass outbreak of the new coronavirus that many health experts and North Korea watchers believe would have been detrimental to the country with very poor health infrastructure.

The country quickly shut down its borders early last year after neighboring China began reporting COVID-19 outbreaks, and they remain shut while the country is said to be enforcing a shoot-to-kill order to prevent any unauthorized persons from entering via the border.

Pyongyang claims to be COVID-19 free.

The latest weekly report on COVID-19 by the World Health Organization released Monday shows North Korea has reported no infection among 25,986 people tested so far.

The CNN report said sharing vaccines could help restart dialogue between the United States and North Korea, also noting the North is unlikely to come to the dialogue table until the pandemic no longer presents a threat.

U.S.-North Korea dialogue have stalled since early 2019 when North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s meeting with Donald Trump in Hanoi ended without a deal.

The new Joe Biden administration has said it will seek a “calibrated, practical” approach to the denuclearization of North Korea under its recently concluded North Korea policy review.

The U.S. is also said to have offered to explain the outcome of its policy review to North Korea. The North reportedly said it “well received” the U.S. offer, indicating a possible departure from its earlier pledge to ignore U.S. overtures until Washington gives up its hostility toward Pyongyang.

The U.S. earlier said its outreach to the North in mid-February had been unanswered.