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U.S. envoy implies discussing aid to N. Korea

The U.S. and South Korea are working closely together to coordinate policies on “tricky issues,” a visiting U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights said Tuesday, indicating the allies’ ongoing discussions over whether to send food aid to the impoverished state.

Special envoy Robert King arrived here Sunday for talks with South Korea’s foreign and unification ministry officials as recent reports say Pyongyang asked Washington for assistance with food.

The U.S. has said it has no immediate plans to send aid, a position that could change as regional powers seek to resume peace talks with the nuclear-armed North Korea, analysts say. 
South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac shakes hands with Robert King, a visiting U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, at his office Tuesday. (Yonhap News)
South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac shakes hands with Robert King, a visiting U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, at his office Tuesday. (Yonhap News)

“We’ve had very good, very serious, very thoughtful discussions,” King told reporters after meeting with Seoul’s chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac.

“It’s extremely important for the U.S. as we pursue our policies toward North Korea to coordinate with the government of South Korea,” he added. “We have a close working relationship. I look forward to continuing those discussions ... in terms of coordinating our policies on these tricky issues.”

Seoul is somewhat negative about resuming aid after suffering two deadly attacks apparently made by North Korea last year. The South Korean government is also concerned North Korea might feel less pressured to give up its nuclear arms should it begin to receive outside assistance of food and fuel again.

South Korea suspended shipments of previously planned flood aid to Pyongyang last summer, vowing to tighten shipments of even humanitarian assistance in response to the North’s November artillery attack against Yeonpyeong Island.

Softening its stance toward North Korea’s recent peace overtures, however, South Korea has agreed to resume dialogue for the first time since the November bombing that killed two marines and two civilians.

The two sides held working-level military talks Tuesday to discuss agenda for higher-level defense talks.

Partners of the stalled six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea view the upcoming inter-Korean dialogue as a positive step toward resuming larger-scale peace talks with the unpredictable state.

North Korea, going through an unstable power transfer from its ailing dictator Kim Jong-il to his youngest and inexperienced son, appears to be increasing conciliatory gestures to restart the multinational talks that would bring it aid, analysts say.

King will also meet with North Korean defectors, members of non-governmental organizations and Unification Minister Hyun In-taek during his stay in Seoul through Friday to discuss pending issues on North Korean human rights issues.

It is King’s second trip to South Korea since taking office in late 2009 after a previous visit in January last year.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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