South Korea has agreed to resume massive shipments of rice to impoverished North Korea, despite Pyongyang's failure to shut its main nuclear reactor as promised at six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programs. Kate Woodsome has more on the agreement from VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong.
South Korean officials announced in Pyongyang Sunday that Seoul will begin sending 400,000 tons of rice to the North next month. The decision emerged after four days of tense negotiations.
Seoul originally wanted to link the humanitarian aid to North Korea's compliance with a February agreement on initial steps toward ending its nuclear weapons programs. But North Korean officials protested that suggestion, storming out of negotiations Thursday. The final agreement does not link the rice aid and the nuclear disarmament issues.
Nevertheless, South Korea's chief delegate to the talks in Pyongyang (Chin Dong-soo) told reporters there that Seoul did not abandon the nuclear issue completely. He said Seoul has informed Pyongyang that the timing and speed of the rice shipments will depend on the North's implementation of the six-nation deal.
Under that deal, North Korea was due to close its main nuclear reactor by April 14th, and readmit United Nations nuclear inspectors to the country, but so far it has failed to do either.
Chun In-young, professor emeritus of political science at Seoul National University, says the South is trying to work with the North, rather than pressure it into complying with the nuclear deal.
"So with this humanitarian consideration, hopefully [it will] work for better relations, so North Korea changing course to negotiate a solution of the North Korea programs of weapons," Chun says.
Chun says Seoul is worried about the North Korean people, and about South Korea's own security.
"We want peace on the Korean peninsula and stability in the region, northeast Asian region. We also are committed and concerned with North Korean people's tragic situation, especially food shortage and other things," Chun says.
North Korea suffers from persistent food shortages, and relies heavily on U.N. and other foreign aid. Famine caused by weather and mismanagement is thought to have killed more than a million people in the mid-1990's, and serious food shortages continue.
Seoul suspended food and fertilizer shipments last year after Pyongyang test-fired ballistic missiles and tested a nuclear weapon.
The two Koreas also agreed Sunday to conduct a test-run on May 17 of a cross-border railway. Trains have not crossed their heavily fortified border since the Korean War ended more than 50 years ago.
South Korean media say Seoul has pledged to send the North raw materials to produce clothing, footwear and soap in return for natural resources - if the rail test is successful.
The other participants in the six-nation talks have not been as accommodating as Seoul. The United States says it has nothing to offer North Korea, and that it is time for Pyongyang to uphold its pledge to quit the nuclear business.
Pyongyang says it will not act until $25 million in North Korean assets are released from a Macau bank. The funds were frozen in 2005 after Washington blacklisted the bank for allegedly laundering money from North Korea's illicit activities.
Macau has cleared the release of the funds, with U.S. approval. But the transfer has not been completed, and it is unclear when it will go through.