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South Korea Begins Shipping Aid to North

Workers unload sacks of fertilizer from South Korean trucks at Kaesong, North Korea
South Korea has begun a humanitarian shipment of tens of thousands of tons of fertilizer to North Korea. However, the North is receiving less than it would have, if it had promised to return to multinational nuclear arms talks.

Orange trucks rolled across the Korean Demilitarized Zone Saturday, as South Korea began transporting fertilizer to the North. It is the first time the impoverished Communist state has opened its land border for aid transport in 10 months.

The trucks are carrying 10,000 tons of a 200,000-ton aid grant from the South.

Goh Kyoung-Bin, a South Korean Unification Ministry official, says the remaining 190,000 tons are being sent by sea.

Mr. Goh says the fertilizer will be sent according to a new maritime agreement finalized during talks in the North Korean city of Kaesong earlier this week.

The talks were the two countries' first official contact in 10 months.

The 200,000-ton shipment fulfills a commitment South Korea agreed to last year. North Korea had requested a total of 500,000 tons of fertilizer to help its impoverished economy produce food. However, at the Kaesong talks, South Korea made additional aid contingent on Pyongyang's agreeing to return to multinational talks about its nuclear weapons programs, and the North refused to provide that agreement. The meetings ended with little more than plans to meet again.

Separately, a U.S. spokesman on Friday denied a media report it had halted food aid to North Korea. The United States provided the country with 50,000 tons of food aid last year, but a State Department spokesman said the government is still weighing whether to send further aid.

The spokesman said Washington would want to be sure that any food actually went to needy civilians, and not to the military. He said Washington does not link food aid to political issues such as the nuclear standoff.

The North Koreans last June walked away from six-party talks aimed at ending their nuclear programs. Since then, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea have tried to persuade them to return to the bargaining table. Instead, Pyongyang says it will add to its nuclear arsenal, despite previous commitments not to build such weapons.

The United States has said there is no formal deadline for North Korea to return to talks, but that Washington is not prepared to wait "forever." U.S. officials have not ruled out the possibility of referring the issue to the United Nations Security Council, which could result in economic sanctions.

North Korea has said it would view that as an act of war, although it has never said whether or how it might retaliate.