North Korea Says US Offered Food Aid in Exchange for Nuclear Concessions

Posted January 11th, 2012 at 3:45 am (UTC-5)
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North Korean state media say the United States has offered to provide food aid and temporarily lift sanctions against Pyongyang if it suspends its uranium enrichment program.

The North Korean Central News Service Wednesday quoted a foreign ministry spokesperson as saying Washington made the offer during high-level talks in July 2011.

The spokesperson accused the U.S. of “politicizing” the issue. But he seemed to suggest Pyongyang would still be open to the deal, saying it would “keep a watch on the United States to see if it really has the commitment to build trust.”

Despite its political differences with North Korea, the U.S. has been the biggest single contributor of food aid to the communist state since its famine in the 1990s.

The most recent U.S. aid effort was suspended in early 2009, partially because of concerns that the food was being diverted to North Korea's military or members of its political elite.

In early December, U.S. and North Korean officials met to discuss a possible resumption of U.S. food aid, and several media reports suggested that a deal was imminent.

However, State Department officials said at the time that the talks were separate from discussions about resuming six-nation talks aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program.

Discussions on the resumption of food aid were reportedly suspended after North Korean leader Kim Jong Il died on December 17.

Aid agencies say North Korea's food situation is the worst in several years, with torrential rains and harsh winter weather early this year cutting harvests and prompting appeals for help from Pyongyang.

But Wednesday's report in KCNA accused “hostile forces” of spreading “malicious” rumors that North Korea was “holding its hands out for food” after Kim Jong Il's death.