U.N. mulls U.S. proposal to streamline, lengthen North Korea aid exemptions

FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flies on a mast at the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva October 2, 2014. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A United Nations Security Council sanctions committee is considering a U.S. proposal to streamline and lengthen exemptions from U.N. sanctions on North Korea for humanitarian aid groups working in the isolated Asian state.

The updates to an implementation assistance note - first issued in August 2018 - will be approved by the council's 15-member North Korea sanctions committee on Friday if there are no objections, diplomats said. The committee operates by consensus.

North Korea has been subjected to U.N. Security Council sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The council has steadily strengthened sanctions in a bid to cut off funding for those programs.

"The U.S. proposal allows humanitarian organizations to fast-track exemption requests for urgent humanitarian assistance, such as aid to respond to pandemics or natural disasters," said a Security Council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said the measure also lengthens the exemption period and requires the committee to process urgent requests under an expedited timeline.

While the U.N. sanctions are not intended to harm North Korean civilians, "there can be little doubt, however, they have had negative effects, although this is difficult to disaggregate from other external and internal factors," U.N. sanctions monitors reported to the council in August.

The coronavirus pandemic, a border closure with China and recent typhoons have added pressure to a North Korean economy already pummeled by international sanctions.

Last month, North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un made rare, tearful confessions in a speech at a military parade that he failed to tackle economic hardships.

An independent U.N. human rights investigator last month called for sanctions on North Korea to be eased because they may be worsening problems from the coronavirus lockdown. Russia and China had also suggested sanctions be eased for humanitarian purposes, but Western countries have said it was too early.

Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump have met three times since 2018, but failed to make progress on U.S. calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Gregorio)

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