U.S. had planned food aid to N. Korea before Kim's death
The United States was poised to announce a significant donation of food aid to North Korea this week before the nation announced the death...
The Associated Press
The United States was poised to announce a significant donation of food aid to North Korea this week before the nation announced the death of supreme leader Kim Jong Il.
The donation would be the first concrete accomplishment after months of behind-the-scenes diplomatic contacts between the two wartime enemies. An agreement by North Korea to suspend its controversial uranium enrichment program will likely follow within days.
Discussions had been taking place since summer in New York, Geneva and Beijing. They already have yielded agreements by North Korea to suspend nuclear and ballistic missile testing, readmit international nuclear inspectors expelled in 2009, and resume a dialogue between North Korea and South Korea, according to people close to the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. It was unclear how the news of Kim's death would affect the delicate negotiations.
Suspension of uranium enrichment by North Korea had been a key outstanding demand from both the U.S. and South Korea of the North, which has tested two atomic devices in the past five years. Food talks in Beijing yielded a breakthrough on uranium enrichment, they said.
The announcement of the food aid, which had been expected to take place as early as Monday in Washington, could lead within weeks to the resumption of nuclear-disarmament talks that would also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The so-called six-party talks were last held three years ago, and resuming them would amount to a foreign-policy coup for the Obama administration.
The U.S. would provide 240,000 tons of high-protein biscuits and vitamins — 20,000 tons a month for a year — but not much-wanted rice, according to reports in the South Korean media. It would be the first food aid from the U.S. in nearly three years.
Negotiators have sought for two decades to persuade North Korea to dismantle its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which the government insists exists to generate much-needed power. But plutonium can be used to make atomic bombs, and North Korea also stands by its right to develop missiles to defend itself against the nuclear-armed United States.
In 2009, North Korea tested a missile capable of reaching U.S. shores, earning widespread condemnation and strengthened U.N. sanctions. An incensed North Korea, which insisted the rocket launch was designed to send a satellite into space, walked away from nuclear disarmament talks in protest.
In the weeks that followed, North Korea tested a nuclear device and announced it would begin enriching uranium, which would give it a second way to make atomic weapons.
With little arable land and outdated agricultural practices, North Korea has long struggled to feed its people. Flooding and a harsh winter further destroyed crops. The World Food Program issued a plea earlier this year for $218 million in humanitarian help to feed the most vulnerable.
Besides a food-aid deal, another tangible sign of diplomatic progress has been North Korea's recent willingness to discuss letting U.S. military officials in to recover remains of U.S. servicemen — a project suspended by Washington in 2005. North Korea has agreed to allow a first U.S. team into the country in the spring.
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