North Korea welcomed yesterday a US decision to provide the impoverished country with food aid, saying the move will help promote "understanding and confidence" between the two countries.
“The DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea] is ready to provide all technical conditions necessary for the food delivery,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
“The food aid of the US government will help settle the food shortage in the DPRK to a certain extent and contribute to promoting the understanding and confidence between the peoples of the two countries,” it said.
The US said on Friday it will send 500,000 tonnes of emergency food aid to North Korea over the next year under a deal with Pyongyang permitting better monitoring of deliveries.
The US Agency for International Development (USAID) said it hoped shipments, which were suspended in January 2006 when Pyongyang “severely limited humanitarian monitoring and access,” would resume next month under the deal.
“We’re responding to a situation in dire need,” USAID spokesman David Snider said as US experts warned that North Korea faced the risk of a new famine, a decade after up to 1 million people died of starvation.
Snider said North Korea itself estimates it is 1.5 million tonnes short of its minimum requirements to prevent a critical food shortage, but he added that outside experts fear the gap could be even greater.
South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said on Friday he believed humanitarian aid should be dealt with separately from political issues.
“Large-scale economic cooperation or investment in the North should be carried out in accordance with the pace of progress in the nuclear issue,” Lee said when he met with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark in Seoul.
“However, I think we should offer humanitarian aid ... regardless of the nuclear issue,” he said.
He said he was “concerned” whether outside help for the North might be seriously cut because of high food prices in the world.
He made the remarks a day after his foreign minister Yoo Myung-hwan said Seoul wanted direct talks with North Korea to discuss providing food aid, apparently softening Seoul’s position that Pyongyang must first ask for help.
The “understanding” to resume US food aid followed talks in North Korea, focusing on finding better ways to monitor deliveries.
The kinds of food to be distributed will be determined by a joint assessment conducted over the next few weeks, the USAID statement said.
Experts will meet in Pyongyang “in the near future” to work out details of the aid.
Chronic food shortages in the North worsened this year because of soaring grain prices, crop damage following floods last summer and dwindling foreign donations.
The North, which staged its first nuclear test in October 2006, is disabling its plants under a deal reached last year.