WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― A senior U.S. senator Monday called on the Obama administration to secure transparency in the distribution of food aid to North Korea before any resumption of the aid, which was suspended years ago over the same issue, is made.
“Any resumption of U.S. food aid to North Korea should be contingent on North Korea allowing access and accountability by monitors in accordance with international standards,” Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Indiana) said in a statement. “It is essential to ensure that the U.S. assistance is actually received by hungry North Korean children and their families rather than reinforcing the North Korean military whose care is already a priority over the rest of the population.”
The leading Republican senator at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued the statement amid reports that the Obama administration is reviewing North Korea’s request for food aid made through the North Korean mission in the United Nations in New York.
State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said earlier this month that Washington had “no plans for a contribution at this time,” adding, “One of the sticking points in the past discussions we have with North Korea have always been confidence in the ability to ensure that humanitarian assistance provided get to those in need.”
U.S. food aid to the North was suspended in early 2009 amid heightened tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests and controversy over the transparency of food distribution.
North Korea at the time refused to issue visas to Korean-speaking monitors, whose mission was to assure that the food was not funneled to the military and government elite.
The U.S. provided more than 2 million tons of food aid to the North over the past decade.
In the most recent aid, Washington pledged to provide 500,000 tons of food to the North in 2008 but delivered just 169,000 tons from May 2008 to March 2009.
International relief organizations suspended humanitarian food aid to North Korea in early 2009 as the North Korean government expelled international monitors amid escalating tensions over its rocket test launch and an ensuing nuclear test, the second after one in 2006.
The conservative South Korean government of Lee Myung-bak has also stopped shipping food to the North, demanding as a quid pro quo that the North make progress in the six-nation nuclear talks.
Lee’s liberal predecessors had each year shipped about 400,000 tons of food and as much fertilizer to North Korea without conditions.
Relief organizations have said that North Korea will need about
1 million tons of food from abroad to feed its 24 million people every year amid reports that thousands have starved to death this winter.