US Seeks N. Korea Nuclear Concessions for Food Aid

Posted February 29th, 2012 at 1:15 am (UTC-5)
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A senior U.S. military commander says North Korea must make concessions on its nuclear program in order to secure much-needed food aid from Washington.

Admiral Robert Willard, the head of Asia Pacific Command, said Tuesday the conditions include a halt to North Korea's nuclear program and ballistic missile tests, as well as allowing United Nations nuclear inspectors back into its atomic facility at Yongbyon.

Willard spoke at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.

“In terms of these negotiations that have been ongoing, I have been supportive of them, with regard to the United States' proposals for conditional food aid into North Korea and the preconditions that have come with it, which now include discussions of cessation of nuclearization and ballistic missile testing.”

State Department officials have long denied that U.S. “nutritional assistance” for impoverished North Korea is tied to political concessions.

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

Before the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il in December, North Korea was reportedly poised to announce an agreement with Washington to suspend its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the food aid. Pyongyang has since hinted it is open to the deal.

Such a concession could lead to a resumption of stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks. But a U.S. envoy said last week after meeting with North Korean officials in Beijing that “little progress” had been made on restarting the talks.

North Korea has suffered from chronic food shortages since a famine in the 1990s that is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Aid agencies say the communist country'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.

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