UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - North Korea postponed a planned meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week "because they weren't ready", US Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Thursday (Nov 8).
Pompeo had been scheduled to meet with top North Korean official Kim Yong Chol in New York on Thursday to push for progress on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but the meeting was cancelled.
"North Korea said they needed to postpone it," Haley told reporters at UN headquarters, adding: "I don't think there was some sort of major issue."
"They postponed it because they weren't ready," said Haley, adding that she expected the meeting, which will also discuss plans for a second Trump-Kim summit, to be rescheduled.
"We continue to stand ready to talk," she added.
The sudden postponement came only two days after the US State Department announced the talks in New York that were also to agree on plans for a second summit between President Donald Trump and leader Kim Jong Un.
Haley said she expected the talks to be rescheduled and that plans for the second summit were on track.
According to documents seen by AFP on Thursday (Nov 8), 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.
Haley said the United States "is going to take our time" to review the requests to ensure that they are not diverted to Pyongyang instead of reaching those in need.
Russia asked the Security Council to discuss the delays during a meeting held behind closed doors on Thursday.
Haley accused Russia of seeking to score "brownie points" with North Korea by raising the sanctions issue at the Security Council.
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.
The United States has rebuffed calls from China and Russia to ease sanctions to reward leader Kim Jong Un for halting missile tests and opening up a dialogue with the United States.
President Trump's administration maintains that maximum pressure from sanctions must be maintained to compel Kim to follow through on his pledge to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
"We have given a lot of carrots up until now. We are not going to get rid of the stick, because they haven't done anything to warrant getting rid of the sanctions yet," Haley said.
Around 10.3 million people, or 41 per cent of North Korea's population, are undernourished, according to the UN office for humanitarian affairs.
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 programme 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 programmes 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.