Opening Remarks by Deputy Secretary Stephen Biegun at NCNK Members’ Meeting

September 12, 2020

The National Committee on North Korea convened a virtual Members’ Meeting yesterday to discuss the humanitarian and economic situation in North Korea, as well as the prospects for diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and North Korea. NCNK and its Members were grateful to be joined by several special guests to discuss these issues, and would like to thank Mr. Stephen Biegun, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; Dr. Joachim Bergström, Ambassador of Sweden to the DPRK; and our colleagues from the United Nations, Mr. Frode Mauring, UN Resident Coordinator for DPRK, and Mr. Assaf Naaman, OCHA Humanitarian Affairs Officer, for their participation.

Deputy Secretary Biegun’s opening remarks are available below, as well as at the State Department website.

Good afternoon.  It is a great privilege to be with you today.  The members of the National Committee on North Korea bring together an immense array of expertise on North Korea that has been of great value to me and my team as we seek to bring lasting peace to the Korean Peninsula.  I want to particularly thank those of you focused on addressing human rights and improving the humanitarian challenges in North Korea.  As I have told you before, you represent the best of America, and I commend you for your work amidst great hardships.

Our team here at the State Department remains focused on trying to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough with the DPRK that will achieve mutually beneficial outcomes for both Washington and Pyongyang.  We continue to see diplomacy as the only viable path to achieve the vision that President Trump and Chairman Kim agreed to in Singapore in 2018, specifically the transformation of U.S.-DPRK relations, the creation of a more durable peace on the Korean Peninsula, the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and a brighter future for the Korean people.  I look forward to the opportunity to work with an empowered negotiator from the DPRK to make progress on all of these pillars.

We recognize that North Korea is facing an unusually severe set of challenges this year that perhaps is making it more difficult for Pyongyang to make the decision to engage.  But I can assure you we will be ready when the DPRK is ready.  In the meantime, it is critical that we and the international community remain focused on the humanitarian challenges faced by the North Korean people.  Quite a few of you are directly involved in this humanitarian work.  Due to no fault of their own, the North Korean people appear to face twin threats right now caused by the risks posed by COVID-19 and recent flooding caused by a heavy monsoon and three typhoons.  We encourage those of you involved in providing humanitarian aid under these adverse circumstances to do all you can to help the people of North Korea at this moment.  You have our full support and we remain ready, willing, and able to facilitate your work to the extent we can.

On that note, I wanted to bring your attention that on September 4 we published a proposed new rule in the Federal Register.  It will allow those seeking to travel to North Korea for humanitarian purposes to request multiple-entry special validation passports.  After the State Department completes the comment and review period, this policy change will go into effect.  This is a long standing request from this group and through we know this will not solve all of the logistical hurdles you face as you seek to do your work in North Korea, we do hope it will help make it easier.

Let me close by conveying our appreciation for your continued work in also helping the international community better understand the situation in North Korea and again for the tireless efforts you have made to improve the human rights and humanitarian situations in North Korea.  I thank you all for your vitally important work.