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US Near Decision on North Korea Food Aid


U.S officials say the Bush administration is nearing a decision on providing new food aid to North Korea. U.S.-North Korean talks on the issue, separate from discussions on Pyongyang's nuclear program, have made progress. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

State Department officials say the United States and North Korea are "on the verge" of finalizing an agreement governing the distribution of food aid to that country, and that an announcement of a new U.S. aid commitment is imminent.

Despite political differences with Pyongyang, the United States has been the biggest single provider of food aid to North Korea.

It provided hundreds of millions of dollars worth of food to the communist state beginning with the country's flood-related famine in the mid-1990s.

But the aid diminished amid U.S. concerns about diversion of food to the country's military and political elite and none has been provided since 2005.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a U.S. aid team that went to North Korea earlier this month had a good set of talks on the distribution issue, and that administration officials are now working on a specific aid plan.

"The team that went to North Korea had some good conversations about what North Korea believed it needs in terms of humanitarian assistance, and how we might go about improving the monitoring mechanism for the distribution of that food, that was really the biggest hang-up that we had in the past," McCormack said. "We have to a large degree been able to come up with what we believe could be a better monitoring mechanism."

McCormack would not confirm a Financial Times report Tuesday that the Bush administration will provide 500,000 tons of food aid, to be distributed by the U.N.'s World Food Program and other non-governmental organizations.

A senior official who spoke to reporters on terms of anonymity said an aid announcement could come as early as Wednesday.

The Bush administration has said decisions on food aid to North Korea are separate from the six-party negotiations on the country's nuclear program and based on its actual needs, competing needs elsewhere, and the ability to monitor distribution.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Tuesday President Bush believes North Korea has diverted food aid to its military, but that he has deep concern about hunger in that country, especially among school-age children.

The World Food Program said last month North Korea faces its worst food shortage in several years caused by flooding and a poor harvest in 2007 - and complicated by this year's big run-up in commodity prices.


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