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‘No hasty decision on N.K. food aid’

June 26, 2011 - 20:30 By 천성우
Clinton: U.S. to engage Pyongyang only on condition Koreas resolve own disputes

WASHINGTON (Yonhap News) ― U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday a decision on food aid to North Korea is on hold due to concerns over transparency in distribution and outstanding issues from the suspension of Washington’s previous food shipments.

Speaking after talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan on the eve of the 61st anniversary of the start of the 1950-53 Korean War, she also emphasized that her government will engage Pyongyang only under the condition that the two Koreas move to resolve their own concerns and disputes.

“We have made no decision about providing food aid to North Korea at this time,” Clinton said at a joint press conference after a 30-minute meeting with Kim.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan answer reporters’ questions after signing a Development Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding in the Ben Franklin Room at the Department of State in Washington, D.C., Friday. (AFP-Yonhap News)

“Any such decision must be based on legitimate humanitarian needs, competing needs elsewhere around the world and our ability to ensure and monitor that whatever food aid is provided actually reaches the people who are in need,” she added. “Therefore, North Korea must address our serious concerns about monitoring and outstanding issues related to North Korea’s suspension of previous food aid programs before we can consider any decision.”

The U.S. halted food aid to the reclusive communist nation in 2009 after it kicked out international monitors. Pyongyang has claimed it then handed out more than 20,000 tons of food delivered by Washington to its people on its own. According to a deal at that time, North Korea should not have distributed food in the absence of international monitors but kept it in storage instead.

Clinton reiterated, however, that the U.S. draws a clear line between humanitarian food aid and political and security issues, saying Washington is deeply concerned about the wellbeing of the North Korean people.

When asked about a protracted stalemate in nuclear talks with North Korea, she said that “we remain open to direct engagement with North Korea” but that improved relations between the two Koreas is a precondition.

“We are pursuing a dual-track approach to North Korea that includes a willingness to engage but only under circumstances that properly acknowledge the role that North and South Korea have to play in resolving their own concerns and disputes between them,” she said. “We remain firm in our resolve and our shared position that Pyongyang must improve its relations with the Republic of Korea.”

Her comments were understood to refer to Seoul’s demand that Pyongyang offer an apology for its two deadly attacks in 2010 or at least express some kind of regret.

A South Korean naval ship, the Cheonan, was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine in March last year, according to a multinational probe. Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed. The North also launched an artillery attack on a South Korean border island eight months later.

The North’s refusal to admit its responsibility for the Cheonan incident is one of the biggest hurdles to inter-Korean dialogue.

The South Korean minister said Seoul does not want to proceed with the denuclearization talks without addressing the Cheonan issue.

“It is true that the Cheonan is an issue between South and North Korea and the six-way talks are aimed at denuclearization,” he said. “But we have repeatedly stated that progress in dealing with denuclearization is difficult under the current circumstances, unless the (bilateral) matter directly involving us is addressed.”