WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) -- U.S. congressmen are rolling up their sleeves to block the Obama administration from resuming food aid to North Korea, arguing it will only help the communist regime bolster its nuclear and other weapons capabilities.
"(On Wednesday night) Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, offered an amendment to the Agriculture appropriations bill that would prevent sending food aid to North Korea," Royce's office said in a press release. "(The) amendment passed by voice vote."
The move is a potential setback to President Barack Obama's efforts to lay the groundwork for turning around a stand-off with Pyongyang ahead of next year's presidential polls.
In the release, Royce said, "Let’s be clear, the aid we provide would prop up Kim Jong Il’s regime, a brutal and dangerous dictatorship.”
"North Korea will always cheat," he added. "Providing food aid not only allows Kim Jong Il’s oppressive regime to divert scarce resources toward its military program - one that has grown increasingly threatening over the past several years - but it delays the day when real, structural reform will come to North Korea."
South Korean embassy officials here said the passage of Royce's amendment is only the start of a long legal process. It is hard to predict when the House of Representatives will come up with a final version of the bill which also requires approval by the Senate, they pointed out.
In late May, Obama dispatched his special envoy for North Korean human rights, Robert King, to the North to assess the food situation, a move seen as a formality.
U.S. officials said no decision has been made yet and any food assistance will be provided on a humanitarian basis without political considerations. But Royce's statement indicated the aid could have significant political and diplomatic implications.
Royce claimed food aid will only feed the military, not ordinary people in need, amid reports that Pyongyang is making miniaturize versions of its nuclear weapons which can be mounted on intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Earlier this week, South Korea's defense chief publicly expressed worries over North Korea's nuclear technology.
"It's been a long time (since North Korea's first nuclear test), so we judge that by this time (the North) could have succeeded in making smaller or miniaturized versions of its nuclear weapons," Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said in Seoul.
Larry Niksch, senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, also said North Korea is expected to succeed in developing small nuclear warheads or test-launching ICBMs next year, when it aims to become a self-styled "strong and prosperous" nation.