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US delays UN approval of North Korean aid requests

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The United States is delaying approval of several requests for sanctions exemptions to deliver tractors, spare parts and other goods needed for humanitarian relief in North Korea, according to documents seen by AFP on Thursday.

[UNITED NATIONS, United States] The United States is delaying approval of several requests for sanctions exemptions to deliver tractors, spare parts and other goods needed for humanitarian relief in North Korea, according to documents seen by AFP on Thursday.

Russia asked the Security Council to discuss the delays during a meeting to be held behind closed doors on Thursday, diplomats said.

North Korea is under crippling sanctions imposed for carrying out nuclear and ballistic missile tests, but UN resolutions specify that these should not affect humanitarian aid.

The exemptions would allow deliveries of plumbing parts needed to repair North Korean health facilities, farm equipment such as tractors and other goods needed for humanitarian projects, according to documents seen by AFP.

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A request presented by Ireland in August to allow its largest humanitarian agency, Concern Worldwide, to carry out four relief projects in North Korea has yet to be approved after the United States requested more time, documents showed.

Italy's Agrotec Spa company is seeking authorisation to export tractors, spare parts and tractor trailers to North Korea under a European Union program to improve food security.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) submitted in June a request for a water sanitation project that is still under review, according to a Red Cross official.

"The health care system in DPRK in rural areas is very fragile, 40 per cent of people lack access to safe water," said a Red Cross official.

"Water programs are about saving lives and halting the spread of disease such as TB. Any tightening of a definition of humanitarian action that does not include improving access to safe water affects very vulnerable people in DPRK," he said.

US officials maintain that any request for sanctions exemptions will be thoroughly reviewed to ensure that any equipment or goods shipped to North Korea are not diverted.

The United States has rebuffed calls from China and Russia to ease sanctions to reward Kim Jong Un for halting missile tests and opening up a dialogue with the United States.

President Donald Trump's administration maintains that maximum pressure from sanctions must be maintained to compel Kim to follow through on his pledge to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Around 10.3 million people, or 41 per cent of North Korea's population, are undernourished, according to the UN office for humanitarian affairs.

AFP