SEOUL -- As a follow-up to a consensus between U.S. and South Korean leaders on humanitarian food aid to North Korea, Seoul decided to provide an $8 million economic assistance package through U.N. agencies that was to be sent two years ago.
South Korea's aid will be delivered through the World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to support maternal and child health projects and provide nutrition support for North Korean children and pregnant women, the South's unification ministry in charge of cross-border affairs said on Friday.
"We are going ahead with the donation of $8 million, which was decided two years ago," ministry spokesman Lee Sang-min told reporters, adding additional rice and food shipments require a public consensus.
"We will fully gather public opinions on food aid to North Korea and review detailed plans for aid directly to North Korea or through international organizations," Lee said. South Korea suspended almost all civilian inter-Korean exchanges since the North conducted its fourth nuclear test in January 2016. After Moon took office in 2017, Seoul approved $8 million in economic assistance through U.N. agencies, but it did not go to North Korea due to international sanctions.
In their joint assessment on May 3, U.N. bodies said that 40 percent of the North's population was in urgent need of food aid due to a bad harvest that left the impoverished North with a 1.36 million ton shortage of grain.
At a telephone conversion that followed the sudden launch of short-range missiles by North Korea on May 4, U.S. President Donald Trump discussed North Korea's food situation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and endorsed food aid.
Trump has advocated a "big deal" under which North Korea would dismantle all of its nuclear arsenal and related facilities in exchange for the removal of sanctions. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has threatened to take a different path, urging Washington to come up with a "fair" and "mutually acceptable" deal by the end of this year.
Separately, South Korea allowed businessmen to visit their factories in the suspended inter-Korean economic zone in the North Korean border city of Kaesong. The trip has yet to be approved by North Korea. "The government has approved a trip by South Korean businessmen to North Korea to protect the assets of South Korean people," Lee said, adding Washington "fully understands our position."
The two Koreas opened the Kaesong industrial zone in December 2004 as a symbol of inter-Korean cooperation. The zone once hosted about 120 South Korean firms manned by more than 50,000 North Korean workers. Moon's jailed predecessor, Park Geun-hye, shut it down in February 2016 in retaliation for a series of ballistic missile and nuclear tests by North Korea.
Moon and Kim have agreed to reactivate cross-border exchanges and economic projects. A liaison office hailed by Pyongyang as a big step forward for co-prosperity and rapprochement opened in Kaesong in September last year to facilitate exchanges and cooperation, but Washington is still reluctant to ease sanctions until considerable progress is made in denuclearization.
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