North Korea is threatening "retaliatory measures" for a decision by the United States to withhold 240,000 metric tons of food promised as part of an agreement announced less than two months ago. Never mind that the cancellation followed Pyongyang's failed launching of a missile designed to put a satellite into space, an operation the U.S. considered a violation of that same agreement, not to mention U.N. Security Council resolutions. The regime's chutzpah and hypocrisy know no bounds.
At the same time, it's dismaying that the people of North Korea will have to suffer for the duplicity of their unelected leaders. When the so-called Leap Day agreement was announced, we expressed uneasiness about the idea of bartering food for diplomatic concessions. As a general policy, the United States should do its utmost to alleviate starvation and malnutrition without regard to geopolitics. Food aid should not be promised or withheld for political, diplomatic or strategic reasons.
The Obama administration says that's not what it is doing. Indeed, it is not characterizing the suspension of food aid as tit for tat for the bungled April 13 launch, which the U.S. sees as a violation of Pyongyang's promise to refrain from long-range missile launches. Rather, it argues, a regime that can't be trusted to abide by understandings about its military activities likewise can't be relied on to allow efficient distribution of food to the needy. The administration also says that, in light of North Korea's provocative behavior, it is concerned about the well-being of Americans who might be sent to that country to aid in food distribution