Deputy Secretary of State Says U.S. Has 'Offered to Sit and Dialogue' with North Korea

Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the U.S. and South Korea offered to enter into dialogue with North Korea as the country deals with the COVID pandemic.

Sherman, who is the No. 2 U.S. diplomat at the State Department, spoke to journalists in the South Korean capital of Seoul on Friday, following a meeting with the country's officials.

North Korea has publicly acknowledged it is facing food shortages while also dealing with COVID. Vaccines to fight the disease have yet to arrive in the isolated nation.

Sherman said on Friday: "We all feel for the people of the DPRK, who are indeed facing all the most difficult circumstances given the pandemic, and what it means as well for their food security."

North Korea's official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

"We only hope for a better outcome for the people of the DPRK," Sherman said.

The two allies also affirmed that they would continue trying to bring North Korea back to talks about its nuclear program.

"We are looking forward to a reliable, predictable, constructive way forward with the DPRK," Sherman said. "We have offered to sit and dialogue with the North Koreans, and we are waiting to hear from them."

South Korea's first vice foreign minister, Choi Jong Kun, appeared with Sherman on Thursday. Speaking about diplomatic approaches to North Korea, he said: "We'll wait for a North Korean response with patience as now is the coronavirus period."

In June, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un acknowledged the problem of food insecurity in his country at a meeting of senior officials. The shortages are ongoing and are the worst in a decade.

"The people's food situation is now getting tense," Kim said last month.

He has also said that the country should be prepared to endure prolonged restrictions due to COVID, while it also faces a lack of medicine and medical personnel.

In February, the U.N.'s COVAX program said North Korea could receive 1.9 million vaccine doses in the first half of 2021, but so far it hasn't received any. The agency that distributes the vaccines, UNICEF, has said the country hasn't yet filled out the necessary paperwork.

Sherman is due to visit Mongolia and China after leaving South Korea.

"The Biden administration has described our relationship with China as obviously a complicated one. It has aspects that are competitive, it has aspects where it is challenging, and aspects where we can cooperate," Sherman said on Sunday while visiting the Chinese city of Tianjin.

"And thinking together about bringing the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is certainly an area for cooperation," she said.

Newsweek has asked the State Department for comment.

Wendy Sherman Bumps Elbows with Chung Eui-yong
South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong bumps elbows with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman prior to their meeting at the Foreign Ministry on July 22, 2021, in Seoul, South Korea. Sherman said the two nations have offered to "dialogue" with North Korea. Song Kyung-Seok/Getty Images