South Korea to give 400,000 tons of rice to North despite nuclear impasse

Sunday, April 22, 2007

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea said today it would give 400,000 tons of rice to impoverished North Korea despite the communist government's failure to meet a deadline to shut down its nuclear reactor.

South Korea will ship the first batch of rice aid in late May under an agreement reached in marathon negotiations overnight in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.

The move was seen as a setback in South Korea's attempt to use food aid as leverage to pressure the North to honor its pledge to shut down the reactor under the Feb. 13 nuclear disarmament deal with the United States and its regional partners.

An official in the South said Seoul was seeking to delay actual shipments until after the North makes progress on the February deal, under which Pyongyang promised to close its reactor in exchange for political and economic concessions. The official asked not to be identified, citing the issue's sensitivity.

There were no preconditions for Seoul's aid to the North, according to the agreement.

Since February, South Korea resumed sending most aid shipments that had been suspended after the North conducted missile and nuclear tests last year.

But the government in Seoul continued to withhold food assistance partly in an attempt to pressure the North to shut down its nuclear reactor, and also in consideration of possible criticism over lavishing aid on the North before it takes actual steps to disarm.

North Korea failed to meet an April 14 deadline to shut the Yongbyon nuclear facility amid a prolonged financial dispute with the United States.

North Korea boycotted international nuclear talks for more than a year because Washington blacklisted a Macau bank where the communist country held $25 million. The U.S. accused Banco Delta Asia of helping the North to launder money and pass counterfeit $100 bills.

The U.S. and Banco Delta Asia said earlier this month that the North's money had been unfrozen. But for unknown reasons, North Korea has yet to withdraw the money.

The two Koreas are still technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. But their relations warmed significantly since the first and only summit of their leaders in 2000.

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