Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 5 News List

US promises food aid to North Korea

INCENTIVES The Bush administration says the aid is independent of nuclear negotiations, but that it wouldn't mind if it had a positive impact on the talks

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

The US on Friday pledged 50,000 tonnes of food aid for North Korea this year, weeks after the two countries appeared to make some progress toward resolving a two-year-old nuclear weapons standoff.

The US, which is traditionally one of the top food donors to the impoverished, Communist nation, says its aid is independent of its negotiations to persuade Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear programs.

But the Bush administration acknowledged it would be good if the aid had a positive impact on nuclear negotiations, in which the two governments held their highest-level talks earlier this month.

"It's our desire to help the North Korean people," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"If that impresses the North Koreans and makes them adopt a more favorable attitude, then that's good, but our intention is to help the people and not to try to affect the talks," he said.

The US could also pledge more food aid later this year, he added.

The aid came in the same week the US allowed North Korea's UN ambassador to attend a conference in Washington, the highest-level visit to the capital by the Pyongyang government during the Bush administration.

The US, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea are negotiating in six-party talks for the North to dismantle its weapons programs. But North Korea says it cannot do so until Washington drops its "hostile" policy to the country.

In the nations' highest-level talks, US Secretary of State Colin Powell met his North Korean counterpart, Paek Nam Sun, on July 2 in Indonesia and cemented Washington's most concrete offer of incentives for Pyongyang to end its programs.

Last year, the US pledged 100,000 tonnes in food aid to North Korea, and in 2002 it gave 207,000 tonnes. In those cases, the donations roughly accounted for at least a fifth of the aid originally appealed for worldwide by the World Food Program, according to State Department figures.

Friday's pledge represents just over a tenth of the 484,000 tonnes of food the UN body says it needs this year for North Korea.

"It's a very generous gift. We hope it inspires other nations to donate, too," World Food Program spokesman Jordan Dey said.

In 2002, North Korea faced its ninth year of food shortages owing to a lack of arable land, collective farming, weather-related problems, and chronic shortages of fertilizer and fuel, according to New World Outlook, a Methodist magazine.

"During 2002 and early in 2003, heightened political tensions with key donor countries, as well as general donor fatigue, drastically reduced the flow of desperately needed food aid," the magazine said last year. Reports in recent years estimated that at least one million people had died from famine and disease.

North Korea is about the size of Mississippi. However, of the total land area, less than 15 percent is suitable for agriculture, the magazine reported.

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