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Time for U.S. to decide on N. Korea food aid: expert

Dragging its feet on food aid for North Korea, the United States is sending the wrong signal to the international community that the communist nation is not in urgent need of food handouts, an expert said.

"Taking no decision is really a decision," Roberta Cohen, human rights specialist at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said in a recent report.

She said that a delay in the U.S. decision gives the impression that there may be no urgent or extensive food crisis in North Korea requiring immediate action.

The Barack Obama administration, seeking to stay in lockstep with South Korea, deliberately discounts the hunger situation in the North, she said.

After dispatching an on-site assessment team in February, five American relief organizations said they witnessed "acute malnutrition" of children in some areas.

A month later, the World Food Program appealed for 430,000 metric tons of food deliveries by this summer.

And in June, the European Union reported "widespread consumption of grass," and announced $14.5 million worth of food aid for 650,000 vulnerable children, pregnant women and elderly people there.

The Obama administration sent a team of officials and experts to assess the North's food conditions in late May. It has since reiterated that it has yet to make a decision as an evaluation is underway.

But the U.S. mission visited only two provinces for assessment, although the United Nations visited nine, Cohen pointed out.

"Torn between its fear of propping up Kim Jong Il's failed Stalinist state and its commitment to 'good humanitarian donorship principles,' which forbid politicizing humanitarian aid decisions, the Obama Administration has taken refuge in delay," she said.

She disapproved of Washington's demand for tighter monitoring of food distribution.

"Washington also has been developing stringent monitoring standards should it resume aid, given North Korea's known diversions to the army and elite," she said. "But these may possibly be so restrictive as to preempt agreement."

The North's totalitarian regime is entirely to blame for the hunger of many of its 2.4 million people, she said, but the U.S. is defying an international consensus that when a government fails or is unwilling to feed its own population, the international community has a responsibility to save lives.

Cohen also urged China to be more active in feeding North Koreans as Pyongyang's principal ally and the largest benefactor.

"It is time for Beijing to join multilateral donor initiatives grounded in international principles," she said. "It should be pressed to use international standards to ensure that its aid reaches those at risk."

If all donors insist on the same standards and enforce them, food aid would be far more likely to reach those for whom it is intended, added Cohen. (Yonhap News)



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