WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has offered North Korea up to $900,000 in emergency flood assistance but has made no decision yet on a broader request for humanitarian food aid for the isolated country, the State Department said on Thursday.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the U.S. offer would likely include plastic sheeting, tents and other supplies and that details were being worked out between U.S. and North Korean diplomats at the United Nations in New York.
“We have offered to North Korea $900,000 in flood assistance. We are working now, using the New York channel, to ensure that if we go forward with that, that the assistance that we render meets the concrete needs of the North Korean people and will be used properly,” she said.
Nuland said the flood assistance would not include food, and was considered separately from a standing appeal by North Korea for food aid to offset bad harvests that a U.N. report said earlier this year had left millions hungry.
“The food question is still being reviewed internally in the U.S. government, and is separate,” she said.
While U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed that aid decisions are not affected by political considerations, the U.S. move follows a flurry of diplomatic activity between Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington.
U.S. and North Korean diplomats held what both sides called “constructive” talks in New York last month, their first such interaction since 2009, as the United States gauges conditions for the resumption of six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear arms program.
The flood assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development would be channeled through U.S. nongovernmental organizations to address needs in North Korea’s Kangwon and North and South Hwanghae provinces, the State Department said.
It said USAID last provided $600,000 in emergency supplies to North Korea following severe flooding in September 2010.
The announcement follows a decision by South Korea, a key Washington ally, to offer almost $5 million in food aid to the North to help it recover from summer floods.
North Korean state media said the country’s chronic food problems have been exacerbated by heavy rains. A tropical storm left widespread damages in the country’s central region in June and July, leaving more than 8,000 people homeless.
Damage was also extensive in farm regions, with 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of land washed away or inundated, state media said.
The U.S. decision on food assistance has been pending since a U.S. delegation visited North Korea in May and U.S. officials say they are still studying whether North Korea will meet their conditions for monitoring and transparency of food deliveries.
Critics say the North has siphoned off food in the past to feed its million-strong army, and South Korean officials have accused Pyongyang of trying to hoard food ahead of a possible third underground nuclear test, which would likely provoke a further tightening of international sanctions.
Nuland said flood aid presented fewer concerns.
“We have a relatively restricted area of North Korea affected by the floods. They are in need of certain kinds of nonperishable humanitarian supplies that aren’t particularly useful to anybody else but flood victims. So it is, one could argue, a less complex problem to solve,” she said.
On broader diplomacy with North Korea, Nuland said the United States would press Pyongyang to show it is genuinely interested in resuming real dialogue.
“We continue to encourage North Korea, as we did in the consultations that we had in New York, to prove that it is taking steps to denuclearize and improve its relations with South Korea so we can get back to the table,” she said.
Editing by Todd Eastham