US, North Korea engage in aid talks anew

U.S. and North Korean officials are meeting Thursday (Dec. 15) to discuss the possibility of resuming U.S. food and nutritional programs in the reclusive Asian country.

Robert King, the U.S.’ special envoy for North Korean human rights, and his team have arrived in Beijing, China, for discussions with North Korean officials that include Ri Gun, the country’s director general for North American Affairs.

Among the topics to be discussed is the U.S.’ push for “strict and clear” monitoring systems to ensure any aid given by the U.S. government reaches intended beneficiaries and is not diverted to the military or the North Korean elite, U.S. Department of State spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing Dec. 14.

Nuland clarified the focus on monitoring measures “does not mean any decision has been made on the U.S. side.” She also discussed the U.S. government’s decision to use the “broader category” of nutritional assistance to describe the aid it is considering sending to North Korea.  This kind of assistance, according to Nuland, would be easier to monitor than food aid and is unlikely to be diverted.

Nutritional assistance can include food items such as rice but could also be vitamin supplements, high-protein biscuits or other supplies that “you would only need to use, again, for populations in need and would not find themselves on some leader’s banquet table,” Nuland said.

Following an expert assessment of the food situation in North Korea in May, King has called on the Asian country to address standing concerns about aid distribution and monitoring for the United States to provide food assistance. The United States did offer flood relief, minus food, to North Korea in light of recent heavy flooding there.

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.