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Food aid to North moves on fast track

Made possible by nuclear talks  PLAY AUDIO

May 15,2008
Sung Kim, director of the U.S. State Department’s Office of Korean Affairs, shows reporters documents he brought back from North Korea as he discusses the latest developments in the six-party talks, Tuesday. [AP]
United States officials yesterday said envoys who visited North Korea earlier this month had “a very good conversation” and that Washington will soon announce plans to ship rice to the communist state.
The move comes after Pyongyang handed the U.S. 18,822 pages of records concerning its nuclear program. The American envoy described the records as a “complete set,” and “an important first step” towards verifying the extent of the North’s nuclear efforts.
With momentum of Pyongyang’s denuclearization growing by the day, top diplomats from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo are also expected to meet in Washington next week to coordinate the next round of six-party talks aimed at dismantling the North’s nuclear facilities.
“The team that went to North Korea had some good conversations about how we might go about improving the monitoring of food distribution,” Sean McCormack, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said yesterday.
Monitoring is a key for Washington officials who want to be sure that the food gets to the neediest and not to the North’s military as has been suspected in the past.
During the latest visit to Pyongyang U.S. officials were able to “work through” how to improve monitoring, McCormack said. “So we’re now taking a close look at what the needs are, what our capabilities to help fill that need might be. We’ll probably have some announcements for you in the coming days.”
In the meantime, Hur Chul, director of the South Korean Foreign Ministry’s Korean Peninsula Peace Regime, had talks in Washington to map out food aid to the North.
It’s a move that suggests Seoul may be modifying its previous stand that it would offer food aid only if directly asked by Pyongyang.
“Our stance that humanitarian aid to the North should be made only upon the North’s request has not been changed, but given the North’s troublesome food shortage, we are reviewing several methods to offer substantial help,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Moon Tae-young.
Meanwhile, Sung Kim, head of the U.S. State Department’s Korean affairs office who visited Pyongyang last week, said the thousands of pages of documents detail the North’s nuclear activities back to 1986.
They include daily logs, operators’ books, operation records, and other documents. Kim also said that he has reason to hope to receive even more documents from the North on other aspects of its nuclear program, an apparent reference to the North’s suspected uranium enrichment efforts. “In fact, we expect to receive them during the verification phase,” Kim said in a briefing yesterday.
Kim said Pyongyang officials agreed to “cooperate fully with verification activities,” affirming Pyongyang’s recent about-face on an issue that had led to a months-long deadlock on the North’s denuclearization.
“The North Koreans made clear to us that during the verification phase, they will make other records and documents available to the six parties,” he said.
Chief envoys from Washington, Seoul and Tokyo are expected to meet next week in Washington to plan the resumption of six-party talks on the North’s nuclear program.
“We can’t say it (the talks) will definitely take place in early June,” Moon said at a briefing yesterday. “But if the North submits its nuclear declaration to the host country China within days, and China has it reviewed by other six-party member countries, our calculation is the talks will happen in early June,” Moon said.
Amid the rapid diplomatic developments, Korea’s chief nuclear envoy Kim Sook has been hurriedly preparing for the next round of talks.
He was in Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, and will soon leave for Washington to meet U.S. envoy Christopher Hill and Japanese envoy Akitaka Saiki.


By Jung Ha-won Staff Reporter[hawon@joongang.co.kr]


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