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US envoy says assured North Korea aid will go where needed

March 08, 2012

US envoy says assured North Korea aid will go where needed. -AFP Photo

BEIJING: A US envoy said on Thursday he was confident proposed food aid to North Korea would flow to those who really need it, but stopped short of announcing a final deal, part of a nascent agreement to restart nuclear disarmament steps by Pyongyang.

The US envoy for human rights in North Korea, Robert King, said talks with North Korean officials in the Chinese capital helped clear administrative roadblocks to the aid.

King suggested that worries about the food possibly being diverted by the North Korean government for its own needs had been dealt with.

“We've had very productive, positive talks,” King told reporters, many of them Japanese and South Korean, at Beijing airport. “I'm very satisfied with our discussions.”

King said one of main topics of the talks was US concerns that the aid would go to truly needy people, and he answered “yes” when asked if he was confident on this point.

“We're still working on the details. Not all of those questions have been worked out,” said King, when asked about when North Korea would begin receiving new aid shipments.

The US-North Korea talks in the Chinese capital were the latest step in seeking to coax Pyongyang to curtail its nuclear activities and return to six-party disarmament negotiations that broke down after 2008.

North Korea last week announced a deal with the United States in which Pyongyang will suspend key parts of its nuclear programme and let UN monitors return to atomic sites.

Washington, in turn, pledged to resume food aid to the isolated and impoverished country, although Washington had repeatedly said aid and disarmament are not directly linked.

The US offer involves 240,000 metric tonnes of food, to be delivered in monthly shipments. The United States and South Korea froze food aid to North Korea after disputes over monitoring of the aid, which critics have said is diverted to the military or to warehouses.

The U.S. and other governments have said North Korea's declaration of a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests opened the way to possibly resuming six-party disarmament negotiations bringing together the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

In September 2005 at those talks, North Korea agreed to curtail nuclear activities in return for aid.

But the deal was never fully implemented. Instead, the North staged two nuclear test blasts -- in 2006 and 2009 -- and later disclosed a uranium enrichment programme, opening a second path to obtaining fissile material for nuclear bombs in addition to its long-standing plutonium production.