WASHINGTON - The United States is resisting calls from the United Nations to provide humanitarian aid to North Korea, citing Pyongyang's continuing expansion of its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenal.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report released last week that $111 million is needed to fund humanitarian efforts in North Korea next year.
In "Global Humanitarian Overview 2019," the OCHA said the money could provide aid to 6 million of 10.3 million North Koreans who will need humanitarian support in 2019.
In response, a State Department spokesperson said while the U.S. is concerned, North Korea has the means to meet its own humanitarian needs.
"The regime can fully meet the 2018 United Nations humanitarian appeal's request for $111 million by redirecting its funds and resources from its nuclear and weapons program," said the spokesperson in an email message sent to the VOA Korean Service.
The spokesperson added, "The protracted humanitarian crisis faced by the people of North Korea is created solely by the [North Korean] regime, as it continues to use its own resources to finance its [weapons of mass destruction] program and military weapons rather than provide for the basic welfare of its citizens."
Washington's objection toward providing humanitarian aid to North Korea comes as denuclearization talks with North Korea hit a snag.
In October, a group of U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) sent a letter to President Donald Trump requesting him to "modify OFAC's sanctions regulations to allow timely delivery of humanitarian aid and other NGO engagement." OFAC is the U.S. Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Controls, which administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes … "
The Trump administration has not responded to the letter, according to Daniel Jasper, the advocacy coordinator for Asia at American Friends Service Committee, which joined the groups in sending the letter.
"The U.S. government does not currently provide humanitarian aid to [North Korea]," said Jasper. "We believe the U.S. should allow humanitarian U.S. NGOs to continue aid programs in [North Korea] immediately."
The U.S., as a member of the U.N. Security Council, recently agreed to grant a partial exemption to two aid groups that called for sanctions be eased on North Korea.
The Security Council approved the request by the Eugene Bell Foundation for an exemption of sanctions on North Korea in November, granting a partial exemption that will allow the organization to engage in humanitarian activities and deliver supplies and equipment needed to provide medical aid in the country. The foundation works primarily on the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis in North Korea.
The Eugene Bell Foundation plans to provide more than three million dollars, according to estimates.
The Security Council also granted a partial exemption to the U.N. International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) in October, making it possible for the group to ship medical supplies to North Korea.
William Brown, a former U.S. intelligence official and professor at Georgetown University focusing on North Korean economy, said the U.S. needs to carefully evaluate the merits of humanitarian programs provided to North Korea.
"We have to look very carefully at U.N. programs in the past because generally, I think, they mostly have been failures," said Brown. "The U.N. Development Program [UNDP], for example, has spent probably $100 million in North Korea over 25 years with very, very minimal achievements."
He cautioned that the U.S. should refrain from supporting OCHA's appeal for $111 million.
"In a nutshell, $111 million to me, is, no I would say, we should not sign on to that," said Brown.
In an effort to promote human rights accountability in North Korea, the Treasury Department sanctioned three North Korean individuals, including a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and groups suspected of committing "serious human rights abuses or censorship" on Monday
The sanctions bar the individuals from conducting transactions with anyone in the U.S. and freeze the assets they might have within U.S. jurisdiction.
The State Department issued a report on Monday condemning human rights abuses and censorship in North Korea to commemorate International Human Rights Day.
North Korea "continues to censor the media and commit serious human rights violations and abuses, including violations of individuals' freedom of expression," the State Department said in the report.
Ham Ji-ha contributed to this report