Washington will make an announcement within the next few days on sending an envoy to North Korea to assess the impoverished state’s pleas for food aid, a top US official said yesterday, as it weighs helping Pyongyang against South Korea’s wishes.
Stephen Bosworth, the US special representative for North Korea policy, met South Korean officials to discuss resumption of both food aid to the North and international nuclear talks.
Asked about a possible visit to Pyongyang by Robert King, the US special envoy for human rights, Bosworth told reporters a decision would be announced from Washington within days.
“We had a good discussion today on the North Korean request for food assistance and I think we have largely reached a common view on that and we are addressing that as we move ahead,” he said after meeting South Korean nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted a government source as saying King, who has yet to visit the North since his appointment in 2009, would visit Pyongyang on Monday.
Officials contacted in Seoul offered no comment.
South Korea views its neighbor’s pleas for food aid with suspicion, saying its food stocks are running at the same level as previous years.
Officials in Seoul say the North wants to stock up on food ahead of mass celebrations next year, the centenary of regime founder Kim Il-sung’s birth.
They also accuse North Korea of trying to hoard food ahead of a third nuclear test, which will likely provoke a further tightening of international sanctions.
Critics of aid say the North has siphoned off the food in the past to feed its million-strong army.
However, pressure has been building in the US to resume food aid to the North after a UN report said earlier this year that more than 6 million people urgently needed help in the diplomatically isolated country.
Former US president Jimmy Carter said after visiting the North last month that withholding food aid was a human rights violation.
However, Bosworth dismissed the notion of a rift between Seoul and Washington.
“We have very strong common view on how to proceed into the future,” he said.
Washington suspended food supplies to the North in 2008 over a monitoring row and has said it will only resume aid with Seoul’s agreement.
Bosworth also hit out at the North’s uranium enrichment program, unveiled last year.
“We believe this is an activity on the part of the North Koreans which is illegal under various UN Security Council resolutions and is contrary to various undertakings we have received from them and that other countries have received from them,” Bosworth said.