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U.S. Offers 50,000 Tons of Food to N. Korea

June 23, 2005|From Reuters

WASHINGTON — The United States said Wednesday that it would give North Korea more than 50,000 tons of food aid, a gesture analysts said might help bring the impoverished state back to international talks on ending its nuclear arms program.

The offer, which the State Department called a humanitarian gesture, follows positive statements by North Korea and hints from other Asian officials that Pyongyang might be ready to resume six-party talks on giving up its atomic ambitions.

The State Department said political factors do not affect food aid decisions and denied that the latest offer was aimed at bringing North Korea back to talks with South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia last held a year ago.

North Korea, which in February declared that it had nuclear arms, has softened its tone recently. Last week, leader Kim Jong Il was quoted as saying his nation was willing to end its boycott of the talks if the United States showed it respect.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli announced that the United States would offer North Korea 50,000 metric tons of "agricultural commodities" through the United Nations World Food Program, saying "it is a humanitarian act based on need and not based on political considerations and not linked to six-party talks."

Ereli said the United States gave North Korea 50,000 tons last year and 100,000 tons in 2003.

Historically, the United States has said its food aid to North Korea is based on Pyongyang's needs, competing needs elsewhere and the ability to monitor the distribution in North Korea. Ereli suggested that long-standing concerns about tracking food distribution may be abating.

"The World Food Program is attempting to implement a new approach to monitoring that ... would make diversion easier to detect," he said. "The [WFP] reports that so far North Korea is cooperating with the new approach and, in addition, North Korea has now reversed most of the newly imposed restrictions.

"That's what motivated this, not politics," he said.

Charles L. Pritchard, a former U.S. negotiator with North Korea, said the Bush administration had been rigorous in basing aid decisions on humanitarian factors but added that it could not be unaware of the diplomatic upside. Pritchard said the aid would allow China and South Korea to make the case to North Korea that it should respond to the gesture by resuming talks.

"To suggest that there is somehow blind justice involved here and the administration doesn't understand the positive bounce [it will] get politically, particularly with the South Koreans and the Chinese, would be naive," he said.

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