SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea vowed Monday to move quickly on plans to provide $8 million worth of medical and nutritional aid for North Korean children through U.N. agencies while it also considers sending broader food aid to the country, which says it is suffering its worst drought in decades.
Lee Sang-min, spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said the government will discuss its plans with the World Food Program and the United Nations Children’s Fund, through which the aid would be provided, so it reaches North Korean children and pregnant women quickly. South Korea is also trying to build public and political support for providing wider food aid to North Korea, either directly or through the WFP.
North Korea’s state media said last week that the country was suffering its worst drought in more than a century amid reported food shortages.
“The government will first discuss with international organizations over the provision of aid and take measures so that the support arrives (in North Korea) quickly,” Lee said. “On the matter of direct aid, we will consider the matter while sufficiently garnering the opinions of our citizens.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed hopes that aid will help revive diplomacy and engagement with North Korea, which tapered off after a nuclear summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump in February broke down because of differences over sanctions relief and disarmament steps. Kim has since declared that the Trump administration has until the end of the year to come up with mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage the negotiations.
While the United States has urged allies to maintain economic pressure on North Korea until it takes material steps toward relinquishing its nuclear weapons, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders recently said Washington has no plan to “intervene” if South Korea moves forward with food aid.
But Moon’s government has yet to decide on concrete plans amid growing public frustration over Kim’s government, which recently resumed short-range missile tests that were apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul.
It is also unclear whether any aid package from South Korea would influence the behavior of North Korea, which has been demanding much bigger concessions from the South, such as resuming inter-Korean economic projects currently held back by the U.S.-led sanctions against the North. A North Korean propaganda website last week described the South Korean proposals for humanitarian aid as disrespectful and said Seoul was trying to sidestep fundamental issues with “hollow talk and boastful credit-taking.”