January 24, 2019

Senator Urges Trump to Ease Ban on Aid Workers Traveling to North Korea

WASHINGTON — A Democratic senator has urged President Trump to allow American humanitarian aid workers into North Korea, despite a recent ban on travel to what officials consider a hostile nuclear state but also one of the world’s poorest nations.

The senator, Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a letter dated Nov. 7 that he was “deeply troubled” by reports that the Trump administration was barring aid workers “from shipping supplies or traveling to North Korea as they seek to provide the most basic humanitarian assistance.”

Mr. Markey praised Mr. Trump’s decision to engage in diplomacy with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, but said the aid workers needed to be allowed to do their jobs. Aid groups provide a range of services, including agricultural training and surgery, but are finding it impossible to enter North Korea because of new State Department restrictions.

“The humanitarian situation in North Korea is far too dire for these draconian policies,” Mr. Markey wrote in the letter to Mr. Trump that was also sent to Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, and Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.

In a statement to The New York Times on Thursday, Mr. Markey said American interests “are best served when our moral and global leadership are in lock step.”

“Addressing the grave security challenge we face in North Korea while also trying to mitigate its longstanding humanitarian crisis will require exactly this,” he said.

North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the mid-1990s and has a chronic food shortage. Mr. Markey cited United Nations data that estimates 60,000 children are at risk of starvation in North Korea, and he said drug-resistant tuberculosis, if left untreated, could spread across the country and to neighboring nations.

In September 2017, the Trump administration enacted a general travel ban to North Korea after the death of Otto F. Warmbier, a University of Virginia student who was arrested while on tour in the North in 2016. Mr. Warmbier suffered severe brain damage while being detained and was released in a vegetative state in June 2017. He died days later.

During the first year of the ban, American humanitarian aid workers were given a “special validation” to travel to North Korea with a one-visit-only passport issued by the State Department. (Journalists traveling there get the same passport.)

The Trump administration has been looking to exert maximum pressure on North Korea by tightening economic sanctions. That is the main thrust of a plan to force North Korea to end and dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

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