The U.S. special representative to North Korea has said President Donald Trump’s administration will review economic and travel sanctions in order to ensure sufficient humanitarian aid is reaching the impoverished nation.
Arriving in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday for four days of meetings with South Korean officials, Stephen Biegun suggested 2019 could see a loosening of travel restrictions, Reuters reported.
“I’ll be sitting down with American aid groups early in the new year to discuss how we can better ensure the delivery of appropriate assistance,” Biegun explained.
The ban on U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea was imposed in September 2017 after the death of U.S. student Otto Warmbier. The 22 year old had been arrested for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda sign while on a tour of North Korea in 2016. Sentenced to 15 years hard labor, he was allowed to return to the U.S. in June 2017 after falling into a coma. He died shortly after arriving home.
The one-year ban was due to expire on September 1, 2018, but was extended at the end of August. It prohibits any U.S. citizen traveling to or through North Korea, though would-be visitors can apply for a special validation from the State Department if their travel is for “extremely limited purposes” or in the US national interest, CNN explained.
The ban is part of Washington’s efforts to pressure North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to engage with the international community and give up his nuclear weapons, which have raised the stakes in a historically-tense region.
But aid groups have complained that the strict enforcement of sanctions has delayed and even prevented the delivery of aid to the impoverished country. According to The Borgen Project—an anti-poverty non-profit—around 40 percent of the country’s 25 million people live below the poverty line, and are heavily reliant on international aid.
Biegun is in South Korea in an effort to kickstart stalled denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea, which began following the historic summit between Kim and President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.
According to the Associated Press, a State Department statement regarding Biegun’s visit said discussions would focus “on our shared objective of the final, fully verified denuclearization,” though did not indicate he would be meeting with any North Korean officials.
Though Trump lauded the declaration agreed at the meeting to work towards “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” such steps have failed to materialize. Senior North Korean officials have met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo several times since the summit, but have refused to provide a detailed list of nuclear assets.