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State Dept. puts blame on North for its problems

Biegun will likely talk with Seoul next week on food aid proposal
May 04,2019
이미지뷰
Stephen Biegun
The U.S. State Department said Thursday that North Korea’s protracted humanitarian crisis was created “solely” by its own regime, which must take greater responsibility for the well-being of its own population.

The remarks, made during an email interview between the JoongAng Ilbo and an unidentified spokesperson at the department, came a day after South Korean diplomatic sources said local officials were likely to discuss humanitarian support, including food aid, for the North next week during working group talks between the United States.

Stephen Biegun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, is expected to lead a delegation to Seoul next Wednesday through Friday for the discussions.

The State Department’s comments raised speculation here that Biegun and his team probably won’t be keen on allowing South Korea to go along fully with its humanitarian support for North Korea, although the aid packages don’t violate international sanctions. Seoul has been toying with the option of providing humanitarian support to the North to revive stalled denuclearization talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the well-being of the North Korean people,” the State Department spokesperson said in the email. “The protracted humanitarian crisis faced by the people of North Korea is created solely by the DPRK regime, as it continues to use its own resources to finance its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] program and military weapons rather than provide for the basic welfare of its citizens.”

DPRK is the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The spokesperson pointed out that it was U.S. policy “to ensure that the strict implementation of sanctions does not impede” the delivery of legitimate humanitarian assistance to the North Korean people, but quickly added that the regime should redirect its funds and resources from its nuclear and weapons programs.

Without explicitly mentioning the United States, Pyongyang’s state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reported Friday that the country’s project to create more arable land was part of a battle against “evil forces” to prove the power of the socialist regime’s self-reliance policy. The article urged members of the North Korean public to find and develop as much arable land as possible “in the spirit of patriotism.”

Later on Friday, Herve Verhoosel, spokesman of the UN World Food Programme, was quoted by Reuters as saying the North has cut public food rations to 300 grams (10.5 ounces) per day, the lowest level ever for this time of year, with further cuts likely after the country’s worst harvest in a decade.

The latest assessment found that, following the poor harvest due to dry spells, heat waves and flooding, 10.1 million people are suffering from severe food insecurity in the North, meaning they don’t have enough food until the next harvest, according to Verhoosel.

BY LEE YU-JUNG, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]