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U.S. vows to work with Seoul over N. Korea food aid

A senior U.S. official said Saturday that Washington will consult closely with its ally South Korea before deciding whether to restart food aid to impoverished but nuclear-armed North Korea.

Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell denied Washington is pressing to give the North badly needed aid, with Seoul reluctant to see its allies rushing to its communist neighbor with massive food supplies.

“I think we conveyed very clearly to our South Korean friends that we are still in the process of evaluating the situation on the ground and we would continue to consult closely with the South Koreans as we move forward,” Campbell told journalists in Seoul.

“We’re very closely in consultation and I think we see this issue in very similar terms.”

Campbell arrived in Seoul from Mongolia earlier in the day for discussions on what he said was a “joint strategy” about North Korea.

The two allies are seeking to have the U.N. Security Council issue a presidential statement condemning the North’s uranium enrichment program, which could open a new path for weapons in addition to its plutonium-based weapons.

North Korea has called for food aid from countries around the world as its economic woes deepened in the wake of international sanctions for its provocations. It has relied on outside assistance to feed its 24 million population since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s.

In a joint news conference with Campbell, South Korea’s Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Jae-shin said that Seoul would offer food aid to the North “if it is needed.”

“But we have to think about the timing and circumstances,” Kim said, adding that Seoul is waiting for details of the evaluation of the North’s food situation by the World Food Program.

The U.S. in 2008 pledged 500,000 tons of rice but shipments stopped the following year amid questions over distribution transparency.

South Korea, which halted an annual 400,000 tons of rice in contributions in 2008, began sending emergency aid following last year’s floods. It pulled the plug when the North shelled a border island.

Critics have questioned the motives behind the North’s all-out calls for food aid, saying last year’s harvests were better than the year earlier. There are also suspicions that the regime might be trying to stock up on food to use for massive celebrations on the 100th birthday of the North’s late national founder, Kim Il-sung, next year.

(From news reports)
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