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North, South Korea Reverse Course to Reach Food Aid Deal

After weeks of refusing outside assistance, North Korea is now accepting humanitarian aid for victims of the country's devastating floods. In Seoul, analysts say South Korea's decision to send aid - and the North's decision to accept it - may indicate that the flood damage was worse than has been reported.

South Korea's Vice Unification Minister Shin Un-sang says the Red Cross aid shipment is a one-time deal. It is separate from the periodic aid shipments that Seoul suspended after the North test-fired seven missiles on July 5.

Shin says the decision to send aid was made for purely humanitarian reasons.

There has been no announcement on if, or when, regular aid shipments will resume.

Officials from the North Korean and South Korean Red Cross societies agreed Saturday on the delivery in the coming weeks of 100,000 tons of rice worth $203 million, plus $27 million worth of construction supplies and equipment. On Friday, the World Food Program said Pyongyang had agreed to accept 150 tons of food aid.

Peter Beck, Northeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, says the one-time aid delivery is an opportunity for South Korea to repair strained political relations with the North. He says even those South Koreans who favor a hard-line approach to Pyongyang have been worried by the recent, dramatic cooling of North-South ties.

"The South Koreans are really looking for any opportunity they can to try to strengthen their relationship with the North, because after the missile launch, the relationship deteriorated much more quickly than the government and even many conservatives thought it would, or even wanted it to," Beck said.

South Korea was among those nations warning North Korea that launching its missiles would be a provocative step, and would be met with reprisals. When Pyongyang went ahead and launched the missiles anyway, Seoul suspended all aid in punishment.

The North in turn ended popular reunion visits between families from the two sides of the divided peninsula, kicked out South Korean construction workers building a visitor's complex for the separated families, and withdrew its officials from the joint economic venture called the Kaesong industrial project.

But as it was being buffeted politically, North Korea was also being battered by typhoon and monsoon rains. Various sources including the North Korean government have said the flooding killed hundreds, and analysts such as Professor Lee Ki-tak of Seoul's Yonsei University said key parts of North Korea's infrastructure were damaged.

Professor Lee says the North's military facilities were badly hit by the floods.

North Korea has released few details about the extent of the devastation. But analysts say the acceptance of outside aid suggests the situation may be more dire than Pyongyang has admitted.