Much attention is on the U.S. and South Korea that they may resume food aid to North Korea as UN food agencies prepare to release a report this week. Questions have already been raised as to whether it will help warm diplomatic ties that would then lead to an eventual resumption of diplomatic dialogue over Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.
The U.S. and North Korea are said to be planning a meeting next month to discuss a possible resumption of rice to the North. The meeting is said to be aimed at discussing the conditions required before Washington makes a decision on feeding the North after massive food aid was halted in 2008. Such conditions include proper monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the rice would reach those in need and not to the North’s military.
The World Food Programme is expected to release a report on Friday, March 25th in Rome on the North’s food situation. Some North Korea watchers suspect Washington will eventually send food shipments in the name of humanitarian aid, but the question is how much.
Some critics even say it is a U.S. attempt to pay the North for a resumption of diplomatic dialogue, but Washington officials have consistently reiterated that they will not pay for talks.
Until now, the U.S. has refrained from sending food aid to the North after apparently having assessed the hunger situation as far less serious than that of previous years, and suspecting Pyongyang’s intentions. Many believe the North’s plea to the international community for food and citation of its economic woes are an attempt to stock up on massive gifts for its people next year. 2012 is when Pyongyang claims the doors will open to becoming a “mighty and prosperous nation” and is also the 100th birthday of the regime’s late founder, Kim Il-sung.
South Korea is also reportedly considering the continuation of food assistance but in the form of “branded food” including corn, beans, and vitamins, which are perishable and cannot be stored for long periods of time like rice. North Korea has constantly been scrutinized for siphoning off rice aid to feed its military and not the hungry. One senior Seoul official has called the potential branded food provisions “smart aid” to be delivered to babies, children and the malnourished. Seoul had halted aid to the North after the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year.