U.S. assessing food aid to the North

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U.S. assessing food aid to the North


Stephen Bosworth, U.S. envoy on North Korea, speaks in Seoul yesterday after meeting with Wi Sung-lac, South Korea’s top envoy. [YONHAP]

The point man for the U.S. on North Korea policy said yesterday that his government will make a decision within days on sending an envoy to the North to assess food shortages in the isolated country, signaling Washington’s further inclination toward resuming food aid to the North.

“We will be making a decision on that over the next few days,” Stephen Bosworth said, instead of denying a local media report that U.S. envoy on human rights Robert King will visit the North next week.

Bosworth, on a three-day visit to South Korea, was talking with reporters after a meeting with Wi Sung-lac, the special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs.

“We had a good discussion today on the North Korean request for food assistance and I think we have largely reached a common view on that and we are addressing that as we move ahead,” he said.

A high-ranking official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that Seoul and Washington both have a need for a more precise assessment of food shortages in the country and if necessary they could send envoys to the North.

But he said that even if the U.S. sent an envoy to the North, it would not necessarily mean the resumption of the food aid from the U.S.

“If the food condition there is judged not to be as urgent as is believed, it wouldn’t be as easy to provide food aid,” the official said.

The U.S. has approached food aid to the North as a humanitarian issue, not linked to the unresolved North Korea nuclear issue, but it suspended its planned aid of 500,000 tons of food to the North in 2009 citing a lack of transparency in distribution.

Since then, the U.S. has called on the North to assure fair food distribution, but its tone began softening in recent months due to the worsening prospect of malnutrition in the North.

The U.N. World Food Program warned in a recent report that over 6 million people, about one-fourth of North Korea’s population, are in need of food. Late last month, the agency announced a plan for emergency food aid for 3.5 million people in the North.

Last month, King said the U.S. would consider resuming food aid if the North cooperates on a food delivery monitoring plan, while briefing former U.S. President Jimmy Carter who was leaving on a trip to the North on April 26-28.

Seoul, which sees food as an essential diplomatic element in relations with the North, remains more adamant on the food aid issue.

It suspended state-initiated food aid to Pyongyang over two provocations last year, over which Seoul claims the North owes an admission or apology, although it did allow assistance by civic groups in the South.

South Korea also suspects that the North could divert food aid to its soldiers or hoard it for 2012, the 100th anniversary of the birth of North Korean founder Kim Il Sung.

North Korea has pledged to become a “strong and prosperous” nation in that year.

By Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]

로버트 킹 美특사 23일께 평양 방문

‘2009년 北에 남겨둔 2만2천t’ 변수…美 ‘소명 필요’

로버트 킹 미 국무부 북한인권특사가 이끄는 미국 대북 식량평가단이 오는 23일께 평양을 방문할 것으로 알려졌다.

킹 특사의 이번 평양방문은 2009년 8월 미국의 대북 식량지원이 중단된 이후 처음 이뤄지는 미 고위당국자의 방북이라는 점에서 대북 식량지원 논의에 탄력을 줄 것으로 예상된다.

정부의 핵심 소식통은 17일 "킹 특사의 방북은 미 정부의 정치적 메시지 없이 대북 식량지원 문제만 협의하는데 국한될 것"이라고 말했다.

평가단은 최근 세계식량계획(WFP)가 최근 발표한 보고서 내용을 확인ㆍ점검하면서 북한의 정확한 식량수요를 파악하는데 주력할 것으로 알려졌다.

평가단은 또 북한측과 식량분배의 투명성 확보를 위한 모니터링 시스템의 강화방안을 중점 협의할 것으로 전해졌다.

킹 특사와 미 국무부 산하 국제개발처(USAID) 전문가들로 구성된 평가단은 별도로 서울에 들르지 않고 베이징(北京)을 거쳐 평양에 들어갈 것으로 예상되고 있다.

한미 양국은 16일 스티븐 보즈워스 미 대북정책 특별대표의 방한을 계기로 대북 식량지원 방식과 규모 등에 대해 사전 조율을 벌일 것으로 알려졌다.

이와 관련해 보즈워스 대표는 17일 오전 서울 도렴동 외교부 청사에서 위성락 한반도평화교섭본부장과 회동할 예정이다.

이런 가운데 미국 정부는 대북 식량지원에 앞서 2009년 북한이 미국 식량분배감시 요원들을 추방할 당시 남겨뒀던 2만2천t의 식량에 대해 분명한 소명이 필요하다는 입장을 보이고 있어 대북 쌀 지원 논의에 변수가 될 것으로 예상된다.

미국은 2008년 북한에 50만t의 식량지원을 결정했으나 분배 모니터링을 둘러싼 이견 끝에 17만t만을 전달한 채 2009년 8월 중단한 바 있다.

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