President Joe Biden says North Korea has not responded to a U.S. offer of covid vaccines as the country struggles with its first recognized outbreak.
Nearly 2.5 million people have fallen ill with “fever” in North Korea and it is under a national blockade, according to the country’s state media.
It is believed to be particularly vulnerable because it has little evidence or supply of vaccines.
Biden announced the offer at a news conference in South Korea.
“We have offered vaccines, not only to North Korea but also to China, and we are prepared to do that immediately,” Biden said in a joint appearance with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol’.
”We have no answer,” he added.
North Korea’s isolated regime has previously rejected offers of vaccines from Covax, the global vaccine exchange scheme, and South Korea, as well as turning down other offers.
Instead, it claimed to have successfully kept Covid out of the country by sealing its borders, although experts believe the virus has been present there for some time.
State media have recommended remedies such as herbal tea, gargling with salt water, and taking painkillers such as ibuprofen, while the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, has accused officials of bungling the distribution of national stockpiles of medicine.
China is also struggling to control a wave of infections of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, with tens of millions of people under some form of the blockade.
At the press conference in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, President Biden said he was willing to meet with Kim under the right circumstances.
“It would depend on whether he was sincere and serious,” Biden said.
His predecessor, Donald Trump, held a historic summit with Kim in Singapore in 2018 and became the first U.S. president to set foot in North Korea the following year.
But two years ago, Kim questioned whether there was any need for continued “hand-holding” with the United States.
The U.S. and South Korean presidents also agreed to deploy U.S. weapons if necessary to deter North Korea and to increase military exercises, which had been scaled back in recent years in an effort to reduce tensions.