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US, N. Korea begin 3rd round of food diplomacy

Posted January. 31, 2011 14:27,   


The U.S. and North Korea have begun their third round of food diplomacy, with Washington considering resuming food aid to Pyongyang.

The U.S. has halted food aid to the North twice since its first provision in 1996 after blaming Pyongyang for diverting the aid.

The North has always asked for food aid first since North Korean leader Kim Jong Il confronted a series of crises in the early 1990s, when the former Soviet Union and China stopped economic assistance to the Stalinist country.

His father and the North`s founder Kim Il Sung died in 1994. When the North was devastated by floods and other natural disasters nationwide, Kim Jong Il ordered state cadres to beg the U.S. for help.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry then formed a committee for flood damage and went hat in hand to Washington. The Clinton administration provided 19,500 tons of food through the World Food Program in 1996, expecting the North to implement the 1994 Agreed Framework and be docile in talks for the repatriation of remains of American soldiers killed in action in the Korean War.

Washington increased its food aid from 177,000 tons in 1997 to 695,000 tons in 1999. In 2000, a joint communiqué between the North and the U.S. was signed.

North Korea, however, diverted the food aid in ignoring U.S. and international principles for humanitarian aid.

As public opinion in the U.S. worsened over the assistance, the George W. Bush administration slashed the aid volume from 350,000 tons in 2001 to 40,000 tons in 2003. The U.S. Congress demanded greater transparency in the distribution of the food aid in 2004, when it passed the North Korean Human Rights Act.

Rejecting the demand, Pyongyang expelled World Food Program staff in 2005. Washington opted not to provide food aid to Pyongyang in 2006.

Flexing its muscles in November 2006 by conducting its first nuclear test, North Korea again requested U.S. aid in 2008. The Bush administration, which was nearing the end of its term, chose to sit at the negotiating table with the North and offered 500,000 tons of food aid through the World Food Program.

The North received 169,000 tons of food by expanding the areas where food distribution is monitored and agreeing to allow more Korean-speaking monitoring personnel.

In early 2009, Pyongyang decided to test the newly inaugurated Obama administration by launching a long-range rocket and preparing for a second nuclear test. In March that year, the North expelled humanitarian aid groups, saying it would not be able to keep its promise of distribution transparency.

In fall last year, North Korea unveiled its uranium enrichment program and showed its centrifuges to the U.S. in a virtual threat to conduct its third nuclear test with uranium bombs if Washington failed to provide food.

What the U.S. will eventually do is attracting interest since South Korea is opposed to aid to the North.