US officials say food aid to North Korea could resume depending on the outcome of talks between the sides in Beijing.
The UN and US charities say aid is badly needed, but the US government is concerned that North Korea, which has plowed resources into a nuclear weapons program, could divert food aid to political elites and its vast military.
US special envoy for North Korean human rights issues Robert King and senior US aid official Jon Brause yesterday met with North Korea’s director-general for American affairs, Ri Gun.
The talks are expected to last at least two days and are to focus on strict monitoring mechanisms should the US decide to give aid.
The last US food handouts ended in March 2009, when North Korea expelled US aid groups that were monitoring the distribution. That occurred shortly before the North conducted long-range rocket and nuclear tests that drew stiff international sanctions.
US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland on Wednesday said the aid could include vitamin supplements and high-protein biscuits for malnourished people in addition to regular foodstuffs.
Such items would be unlikely to end up “on some leader’s banquet table,” Nuland said.
“They [North Korean officials] know that we were obviously deeply dissatisfied with the way this went before and that we need more discussions about it,” Nuland told a news conference.
The UN reported last month that North Korea had an improved harvest this year despite a harsh winter and summer floods, but malnutrition among children had increased. It said nearly 3 million people would continue to require food assistance next year.
North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages for the past two decades because of a combination of economic and agricultural mismanagement and natural disasters. It suffered a famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people.