A U.S. expert says North Korea is looking for "positive steps" from the Obama administration to improve relations between the two countries. North Korea may be signaling some of its priorities include heavy fuel oil and long-term food aid.
U.S. researcher Selig Harrison says Pyongyang wants friendly relations with the United States. Harrison is Asia Program Director for the Center for International Policy. He met with North Korean officials beginning January 12 on his eleventh trip to the country since 1972.
Harrison told reporters in Beijing Saturday that North Korean foreign minister Pak Ui Chun Pak hopes Mr. Obama will take steps to reverse the Bush administration "regime change policy" and will initiate new moves towards normalized relations.
"If the Obama administration takes its first steps correctly and makes a political decision to change its DPRK policy, the DPRK and the United States can become intimate friends," he said.
Harrison says that two of North Korea's most immediate problems are energy and food security, and Pyongyang would accept U.S. humanitarian assistance in the form of fuel oil and long-term food aid.
Harrison says Pyongyang is "very upset" that one-third of the fuel oil they were promised under a 2007 disarmament agreement has not been provided. North Korea says it has complied with ninety percent of the accord's provisions.
In terms of food security, Harrison says North Korea recently told visiting EU ambassadors that they were not making a formal request for food aid, but would accept any that was offered.
North Korean officials told Harrison they would like to see the United States shift to long-term low interest food aid.
"I personally think that's the most realistic initiative the Obama administration could make," he said. "It would be politically acceptable to the American people to help North Korea deal with the food problem that is leading to very serious malnutrition."
Earlier this month, the United States sent out a shipment of food to North Korea. The U.S. State Department said it would not stop food aid to the country, but also cited problems with North Korea not issuing visas for Korean-speaking U.N. World Food Program workers.