US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong spoke by phone Friday about ways to engage with North Korea, including the possibility of humanitarian aid, according to their respective offices.
“The secretary and the foreign minister reaffirmed their commitment to complete denuclearization and establishment of permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula, and the secretary confirmed U.S. support for inter-Korean dialogue and engagement,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The two “discussed recent developments in the DPRK and agreed to explore humanitarian initiatives on the Korean Peninsula,” Price said. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
South Korea’s foreign ministry released a statement saying Washington and Seoul “agreed to hold detailed discussions on ways to cooperate with North Korea, such as humanitarian cooperation.”
North Korea accused the US last month of using humanitarian aid for “sinister” purposes.
However, North Korea’s need for humanitarian assistance may be increasing as severe weather worsens food shortages. Earlier this summer, the country experienced a heatwave and a drought, and on Thursday, state media reported on heavy rains that flooded crops.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un acknowledged in June that the food situation was “now getting tense” as a result of crop damage caused by typhoons last summer.
The UN estimated that North Korea was short 860,000 tonnes of food in June and warned that the country could face a “harsh lean period” between August and October.
South Korean President Moon Jae-administration in’s has prioritised closer relations with North Korea, but after a period of diplomatic rapprochement in 2018 and 2019, interactions between the two Koreas have become strained.
The relationship has seen a thaw in recent weeks with the re-establishment of communications hotlines that had been severed by Pyongyang in June of last year.
Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister, warned on Sunday that joint military exercises between the US and South Korea scheduled for this month could “seriously undermine” efforts to restore trust between the two Koreas.
The ruling Democratic Party of South Korea is debating whether to postpone the joint exercises, which Pyongyang has long characterised as a dress rehearsal for an invasion.
Nuclear talks between Washington and North Korea have also stalled since a February 2019 summit between Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump failed to produce an agreement.
The Biden administration has signalling its willingness to engage Pyongyang diplomatically, citing a “calibrated and practical approach.”
During a visit to Seoul, US Special Envoy to North Korea Sung Kim stated that Biden administration officials would meet with Pyongyang negotiators “anywhere, anytime, without preconditions.”
So far, North Korea has publicly rejected such overtures, with Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon declaring in June that Pyongyang was “not even considering the possibility of any contact with the US.” The North has been requesting that international sanctions be lifted in exchange for any concessions it makes in dismantling its nuclear programme.