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US Agrees to Resume Food Aid to North Korea

The United States has announced the resumption of food aid to North Korea after the two sides agreed on new measures to insure that the American-provided assistance reaches those in need. U.S. officials say the pending food aid is unrelated to negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program. VOA's David Gollust reports from State Department.

With North Korea again facing the threat of widespread hunger, the United States has agreed to provide that country with 500,000 metric tons of food over a 12-month span beginning in June.

The U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, announced the decision Friday. It said the two countries had agreed on terms for a "substantial improvement" in monitoring of food deliveries, to assure that they reach the intended recipients.

Despite political differences with Pyongyang, the United States has been the biggest single supplier of food aid to North Korea since that country's famine in the mid-1990s.

But no U.S. aid has gone there since 2005 because of U.S. concerns about possible diversion of food donations to the North Korean military and political elite.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the monitoring agreement, the product of several months of negotiations, is the most stringent to date:

"Because the needs in terms of the monitoring regime have been met, and that there was perhaps the most rigorous monitoring regime for distribution of food aid that we've seen in North Korea, we're able to provide 500,000 tons over the period of a year starting in June," said McCormack.

"The aid will be distributed via the Emerson Trust, about one 100,000 tons, and about 400,000 tons via the World Food Program. Representatives of Emerson and the World Food Program will be able to travel to affected areas that are going to be receiving the food aid," he added.

The Emerson Humanitarian Trust was set up by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute American food aid. McCormack said U.S. government officials will not be involved in on-the-ground relief activities in North Korea.

The World Food Program, a United Nations Agency, said last month North Korea faces its worst food shortage in several years due to flooding and a poor harvest in 2007, with the situation complicated by this year's big run-up in food prices.

McCormack said he had no immediate estimate of the value of the U.S. donation. The mix of U.S. farm commodities and delivery schedules are to be worked out in bilateral meetings in the coming weeks.

The spokesman reiterated that the U.S. aid pledge is need-based, and unrelated to six-party negotiations aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program.

The talks have stalled recently over Pyongyang's failure to produce a declaration of its nuclear activities and holdings, which was due at the end of 2007.

McCormack said the chief U.S., South Korean and Japanese envoys to the talks will discuss the status of the nuclear talks in a three-way meeting in Washington Monday.