Calling the food situation in North Korea “quite severe,” the State Department said Wednesday it plans to provide that country with $6.2 million to help avert famine this summer.
Floods last year destroyed significant amounts of farm land and aggravated existing shortages.
Combined with expected contributions from Japan and South Korea, the U.S. donation will bring to about $15 million the international effort to help North Koreans survive until next fall’s harvest.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said other countries are expected to contribute as well. The U.S. contribution will comprise 3,500 tons of corn soy blend for children under age 5 as well as 6,600 tons of rice and 3,000 tons of cornmeal.
The pledges by the United States and other countries thus far fill less than 10 percent of North Korea’s estimated need of 1 million tons of food, Burns said.
He said the food, being distributed by the World Food Program of the United Nations, will be earmarked for rural areas victimized by the floods. “This is not general assistance to the government in Pyongyang,” Burns said.
He confirmed earlier reports that the donation is not linked to political concessions from North Korea. In response to those reports last week, Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole accused President Clinton of subsidizing “a country that devotes its own resources to the appetite of an insatiable military.”
Burns countered that “sometimes you have to put aside your political differences with a government, no matter how reprehensible that government might be to its own people.”
North Korea has yet not responded formally to a 2-month-old U.S.-South Korean proposal for peace talks between the two Koreas to be monitored by the United States and China.
U.S. officials said they hope the emergency food donation will encourage flexibility by Pyongyang on that issue and others as well.
Burns rejected the suggestion that contributing food aid amounts to “coddling” North Korea.
He said the administration negotiated an end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and continues to deploy more than 30,000 U.S. troops to deter renewed hostilities between the two Koreas.
“I think there’s very little to criticize, frankly, in our policy towards North Korea,” he said.