UNITED NATIONS - Several requests by humanitarian groups for UN approval to ship goods to North Korea for aid projects have been in limbo for months because the United States repeatedly asked for more time to consider them, according to documents seen by Reuters on Thursday.
The UN Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 to choke off funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Under the measures, aid groups can ask for exemptions to send humanitarian assistance to the impoverished, isolated Asian state.
Requests are made to the 15-member Security Council's North Korea sanctions committee, which operates by consensus.
But according to committee documents, a September request by a US-based charity and August requests by an Ireland-based aid group and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are yet to be given the green light because Washington has asked for more time to consider them.
The United States is not required to give the committee a reason. The US mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The UN Security Council is due to discuss sanctions on North Korea behind closed doors on Thursday, at the request of Russia, and some diplomats said they expected the issue of humanitarian exemptions to be raised.
Russia requested the council meeting after the postponement of a planned Thursday meeting between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials in New York.
China and Russia have said the Security Council should reward Pyongyang for the "positive developments" after US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in June and Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization.
But the United States and other Western powers have said sanctions must be enforced until there is full denuclearization. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has also accused Russia of cheating on UN sanctions on North Korea.
A year ago top UN officials warned the Security Council that sanctions on North Korea may be harming the delivery of humanitarian aid. At the time the council sanctions committee said the measures "are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population" of North Korea.
In August this year the committee issued a new notice to UN member states in an attempt to "provide a clear explanation" of how to submit humanitarian exemption requests.