Food aid, maybe, but after talks

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Food aid, maybe, but after talks

Seoul has told Washington it won’t mind the U.S. giving food aid to North Korea, but only after Pyongyang agrees to have inter-Korean talks, a diplomatic source told the JoongAng Ilbo yesterday.

“Since [U.S. envoy] Robert King returned from North Korea, South Korea has expressed its stance that if the U.S. decides to give food, it would like the U.S. to do so at least after North Korea agreed to have inter-Korean talks,” the source said.

The source said the South is concerned that resumption of U.S. food aid before inter-Korean talks could send the wrong signal to the North and could lead it to try to bypass talks with the South for talks with Washington. Seoul, accusing the North of two deadly provocations last year, has said inter-Korean talks should be the starting point in efforts to turn back the time to before April 2009, when the North walked out of the six-party talks.

Washington, Tokyo and Moscow have agreed with Seoul’s stance and China showed its approval in April by suggesting a three-step formula for resumption of the six-party talks starting with inter-Korean talks and then Pyongyang-Washington talks. Pyongyang, however, turned sour on the conciliatory gesture it took earlier the year after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s visit to China last month and threatened not to talk with the hard-line Lee Myung-bak administration.

A Seoul official told the JoongAng Ilbo that the chance is low the U.S. would give food before inter-Korean talks, because the U.S. is in no hurry to give food aid to the North. The U.S. is studying the outcome of a recent visit by its food assessment team to the North, led by King, to decide whether to resume food aid to the impoverished country and how much. The official said the U.S. is reviewing a plan to lengthen the period of providing food as much as it can, thinking that the North would likely refrain from provocation on the Korean Peninsula while receiving food.

Meanwhile, the defense and foreign ministers of the U.S. and Japan expressed hope for inter-Korean dialogue during talks in Washington on Tuesday.


By Kang Chan-ho, Moon Gwang-lip [joe@joongang.co.kr]

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