North Korea is struggling with heavy rains and massive flooding that have washed out homes and ruined crops across the country. The worst flooding is in the north, on the Yalu River, which separates North Korea from China. Beijing has already offered help, and now the United States is, too.
Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, told VOA's Korean service in an exclusive interview that Washington will send $750,000 in emergency aid to Pyongyang. He said the money will be given to three independent aid groups: Samaritan's Purse, Global Resource Services and Mercy Corps.
"We've received reports of the seriousness of the flooding in North Korea," King said. "The North Korean government reached out to these three non-government organizations that we're working with and to another NGO and requested assistance."
King added the groups will use the money primarily for medical supplies and will fly the aid into Pyongyang beginning this week.
The aid comes amid a flurry of diplomatic activity surrounding North Korea. Washington has imposed additional sanctions on Pyongyang in response to the deadly sinking of a South Korean war ship earlier this year. And former U.S. President Jimmy Carter recently traveled to North Korea to secure the release of an American jailed for illegally entering the country.
King dismissed speculation that the assistance is a political tool to lure North Korea back to international talks on its nuclear program.
"Our humanitarian assistance is provided solely on the basis of the need and our ability to provide the assistance and to monitor that it's being received by those in need," he said. "This is not in response to ongoing talks or lack of talks. This is not in response to the humanitarian release of an American citizen."
Washington's outreach is likely timed with major leadership changes taking place in North Korea, said Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert and honorary research fellow with Leeds University in England.
"I do think there's a sense in Washington and in Seoul of possibly missing out at a time when North Korea is probably going to be making a generational change," said Foster-Carter.
North Korea's ruling Workers' Party is reportedly planning a major meeting next week to pick new leadership and possibly choose a successor to leader Kim Jong Il.
In the run-up to this meeting, Mr. Kim made his second visit to China in four months, coinciding with a visit to North Korea by the former U.S. president Carter.
Foster-Carter says by ignoring calls to return to the six-party talks, and working directly with China, North Korea is signaling it does not care to deal with its critics.
"Presumably neither the U.S. nor South Korea wants to see North Korea shelter wholly under China's wing, which I think is certainly one option in the coming years to be honest," Foster-Carter said.
China's Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs, Wu Dawei, met key U.S. diplomats in Washington this week to discuss North Korea. And South Korea's special representative for Korean Peninsula Peace is to hold his own meeting Friday with deputy U.S. Secretary of State James Steinberg.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has said it is up to North Korea to show it is willing to live up to international obligations, including abandoning its nuclear weapons program.
"If North Korea's prepared to demonstrate a willingness to act more constructively, then we will respond appropriately and be prepared for further engagement," said Crowley.
In China last week, Kim Jong Il reportedly told Chinese President Hu Jintao that he wanted an early resumption of the nuclear talks.
The United States and South Korea both say the negotiations should not resume until North Korea apologizes for the sinking of the South Korean warship.