NK aid not up for debate

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NK aid not up for debate

The government is ruminating over whether or not to resume humanitarian aid to North Korea. During last weekend’s inter-Korea meeting involving Red Cross officials, the North officially asked for humanitarian aid from the South. The political quagmire our government faces when it comes to this question is understandably difficult to navigate, but we think that there should be no conditions or delays in providing humanitarian aid to the North. Seoul should resume the aid as soon as possible through the Red Cross or other international organizations.

During the meeting last weekend, officials from the South suggested that new rounds of family reunions be held in Seoul and Pyongyang in November ahead of another round at Mount Kumgang near the Lunar New Year. Officials from the North, however, did not provide a clear answer when it came to the request but instead reiterated the need for humanitarian assistance. The South, in turn, also responded vaguely, saying that it would review the proposal after returning to Seoul.

As helping poverty-stricken North Koreans is an urgent humanitarian issue, helping divided family members see each other is an equally pressing humanitarian issue. These two matters have equal urgency and significance and should not be subject to political negotiation.

One can certainly question whether or not it is morally justifiable to resume supporting the North when it is still under strict sanctions by the United Nations. We believe that is why the Seoul government is struggling so hard in making a decision. But UN Security Council Resolution 1874 exempts such humanitarian aid from the sanctions. That means it is not entirely impossible to resume aid to the North if the South’s government is determined to do so.

But at the same time, this issue is something that must be dealt with through the Red Cross, and it should involve government officials from both Koreas.

If Pyongyang is hoping to get a massive aid package - such as 300,000 to 400,000 tons of food and fertilizer - it should come forward and participate in open discussions with Seoul instead of obsessing solely on talks with Washington only.

During meetings with Seoul, Pyongyang officials also need to devote more time to actively discussing other pressing issues, such as the denuclearization process, that need immediate coordination.

But if the South is willing to give a smaller volume of aid that can be handled solely by the Red Cross, there is no need for further hesitation from Seoul. Pyongyang also needs to soften its stance regarding the other pressing humanitarian issue of family reunions.
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