The United States has delivered about half of its 50,000 metric ton food pledge to the North, through the U.N. World Food Program's distribution system, and was set to begin delivery of the rest later this month, according to a statement by the U.S. Agency for International Development, which oversees U.S. humanitarian aid abroad.
But without the WFP's staff and distribution and monitoring systems, the United States can't make sure the rest of its North Korean food aid would get to the people who need it, USAID administrator Andrew Natsios said.
The future of the U.N. program in North Korea is still unclear. While U.N. and other aid agencies are cutting back operations at the North Korean government's request, WFP officials say the country still needs outside help to feed its people. Officials from both sides were scheduled to continue talks on the state of the program later this month.
The USAID announcement comes as negotiators from six nations meet Wednesday in Beijing to discuss North Korea's nuclear programs. It wasn't immediately clear why the announcement was made on the day the talks resumed. A USAID official declined to elaborate on Natsios' statement.
U.S. officials have said the food assistance program operates independently from the nuclear talks. But James Walsh, a North Korea analyst at Harvard, said "the release of such a statement while the U.S. is in negotiations is either stupid or malicious. Either the agency (USAID) is unaware of the negotiations, which is inexcusable, or, alternatively, they know the negotiations are happening and they're attempting to meddle with them."
The North has relied on foreign aid to feed its 23 million people since disclosing in the mid-1990s that its state-run farming system had collapsed after decades of mismanagement and the loss of Soviet subsidies.
The WFP provides North Korea with 500,000 tons of food aid a year, enough to feed about 6.5 million people. About 2 million tons of U.S. food aid has been sent to North Korea through the WFP since 1995.
Separately, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday that the three-day talks this week in Beijing are meant "to prepare the way for the next round of talks, which will likely take place next month."
This round follows a landmark agreement in September, when North Korea pledged to give up nuclear development in exchange for aid and a security guarantee. The North has since raised doubts about its promise by demanding a civilian nuclear reactor before it disarms a move Washington rejects, reported AP.
A nuclear-powered submarine of the British Navy surfaced in the ice of the Arctic for the first time in many years