North and U.S. talk possible food aid resumption

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North and U.S. talk possible food aid resumption

BEIJING - North Korea and the United States held talks in Beijing on Thursday to discuss a possible resumption of food aid by Washington to Pyongyang, a source here said, although U.S. officials indicated that there may be no immediate decision.

Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights issues, started the two-day, closed-door talks with Ri Kun, director general for North American affairs at North Korea’s foreign ministry, at an unknown location in Beijing, the source said.

“The two sides were originally said to hold the consultations for two days, but the schedule could be readjusted, depending on the progress of the consultations,” the source said on the condition of anonymity.

The United States has been considering an appeal from North Korea for food aid and sent a team in May to assess the needs of the impoverished country, but is withholding its decision because of monitoring concerns.

On Wednesday in Seoul, a diplomatic source said that King and Ri are expected to discuss terms of a possible resumption of food aid, including what kind of food should be provided and how to monitor the distribution of such assistance.

Pyongyang wants Washington to offer rice, but Washington is expected to propose providing infant milk formula or biscuits for children, citing concerns that rice may be redirected from civilians to the North’s military, according to the diplomatic source.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department confirmed that the talks between King and Ri were due to start on Thursday but expressed caution about the outcome.

The Thursday meeting “follows up on conversations we’ve had in the past about whether the United States will provide nutritional assistance to North Korea,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

If the Beijing meeting goes well, North Korea and the United States could hold a third round of bilateral talks later this month to revive the stalled six-nation negotiations on ending the North’s nuclear weapons programs, the diplomatic source said earlier.

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