|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is not expected to accept an offer from U.S. President Donald Trump to help Pyongyang combat the coronavirus pandemic, without Washington's sanctions relief. / Korea Times file|
By Kang Seung-woo
The U.S. offer to help North Korea fight the coronavirus pandemic is unlikely to be accepted by Pyongyang, according to pundits, Tuesday. In addition, the U.S. humanitarian approach to the North is not likely to give South Korea leeway for inter-Korean quarantine cooperation, they added.
On Sunday, Kim Yo-jong, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's younger sister and close adviser, announced U.S. President Donald Trump had written a personal letter to his brother about cooperation on the fight against the virus ― although the reclusive country claims there are no cases of the COVID-19.
"At this point in time, I doubt it," said Terence Roehrig, a professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College.
"Though North Korean statements have recognized the severe threat COVID-19 is for the country, it does not acknowledge any cases though that seems very unlikely. The spread would have to get much worse and North Korea would be more likely to accept assistance through an international organization rather than the United States directly."
Van Jackson, a professor of Victoria University of Wellington and former Pentagon official, echoed Roehrig's view.
"If North Korea is in dire circumstances as a result of the COVID-19, Kim Jong-un would be willing to at least explore receiving assistance from the United States. But it's not clear at this point if North Korea has experienced the pandemic the way most nations have," he said.
"And Kim is on an openly hostile footing toward the U.S. in a bid to get sanctions relief. If sanctions relief were forthcoming in tandem with medical assistance, then I'm sure Kim would take the offer seriously. But otherwise, I have doubts."
Although she praised the personal relationship between the two leaders, Kim Yo-jong hinted the anti-epidemic work based on it was not enough to accept the U.S. offer, saying the relations between the two countries and their development should not be judged in haste in the light of the personal relations.
"The Kim regime is still likely to limit the level of cooperation with Seoul and Washington because Pyongyang's price for improving diplomatic relations is much higher than humanitarian aid alone," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
As the U.S. and the United Nations are making humanitarian exemptions to sanctions on North Korea, speculation is rampant that they may create more diplomatic maneuvering room for the South to seek inter-Korean cooperation that has been at a standstill due to the deadlock in the denuclearization talks between the U.S. and the North.
The North has yet to respond to the South's proposal for joint quarantine efforts as the coronavirus has swept the world.
However, North Korea watchers do not buy into the idea.
"South Korea's great recovery from the coronavirus puts President Moon Jae-in in a stronger position to offer assistance to North Korea. But Kim Jong-un has shown us all that he does not view South Korea as an equal, so he might be too proud to accept South Korean or even U.S. assistance," Jackson said.
Roehrig also doubted that that would do much to change the current situation on denuclearization and inter-Korean relations as the U.S. is set to keep sanctions in place until there is progress on the North's denuclearization.
"As to U.S. assistance to North Korea with COVID-19, if anything actually happens, it would be a humanitarian exemption and would not create momentum for greater sanctions relief," he said.