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South Korea halts food aid to North
TOKYO — South Korea on Thursday suspended humanitarian aid to North Korea until it agrees to return to international nuclear-disarmament talks.
The action infuriated visiting North Korean officials, who immediately cut off high-level talks in South Korea and returned home.
The decision to postpone consideration of a North Korean request for 500,000 tons of rice marked the South's first punitive action against its impoverished communist neighbor since it defied the international community and test-fired seven missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2, on July 4.
The move came as the administration of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun has come under sharp public criticism at home for what many there viewed as a weak response by Seoul to North Korea's missile tests.
South Korea on Thursday reiterated its opposition to a push by Japan and the United States to impose broader sanctions on North Korea through a draft resolution at the United Nations' Security Council.
But the decision to follow through with a previous threat to suspend food aid if North Korea tested missiles — a threat many experts doubted the South Koreans would stick to — displayed a new willingness by the South to use its significant economic clout to apply pressure on the North.
The North Koreans — for whom economic assistance from South Korea is topped only by China — appeared jolted by the decision. At talks being held in the South Korean city of Pusan that were originally scheduled to end today, Pyongyang's delegation abruptly departed Thursday.
South Korea's Yonhap news service reported that the North Korean officials left after circulating a statement calling the rupture the result of "reckless" attempts by South Korea to raise "irrelevant issues." Those issues, South Korean officials said, were the recent missile tests and the North's refusal to return to six-party talks on its nuclear programs.
North Korea bitterly condemned Seoul's decision to suspend food aid.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company