This article has been updated as of Friday, May 10 (16:07) to include an additional statement from the Ministry of Unification.
The U.S. Special Representative for North Korea issues will meet with South Korea’s Minister of Unification (MOU) on Friday, amid growing debate between the two countries on the need for food aid to the DPRK.
Stephen Biegun, who arrived Wednesday in Seoul for U.S.-ROK working group talks, will meet with Kim Yeon-chul on Friday for a courtesy call at 1630 to discuss inter-Korean issues, the unification ministry said today.
Though no detailed agenda items were released by the MOU, recent developments suggest that one likely subject of discussion will be South Korea’s stated interest in providing food aid to North Korea.
The unification minister said Wednesday that Seoul would “in the near future” lay out detailed plans for sending food aid to North Korea, after “comprehensively reviewing” the issue.
His remarks came after the Blue House said on Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump had expressed verbal support to South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Seoul providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea.
“President Trump assessed that South Korea’s provision of food to North Korea in a humanitarian move will be very timely and a positive step and supports it,” Blue House spokesperson Ko Min-jung said.
The White House press readout of the call, however, said only that the two leaders “discussed recent developments … and how to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of the DPRK”.
One informed source told NK News that the difference in contents of the two statements was evidence that Seoul had wilfully misinterpreted Washington’s position on South Korean humanitarian assistance to the North.
Pushed on the subject Wednesday by a reporter, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the U.S. “won’t intervene” if Seoul decides to offer food aid the North.
“Our position in regards to North Korea is going to continue to be the maximum pressure campaign,” Sanders said. “Our focus is on the denuclearization.”
A South Korean unification ministry spokesperson clarified on Friday that there had been no misunderstanding.
“President Moon said that (when he had phone talks with President Trump on May 7th) President Trump had asked him to share that the ROK has President Trump’s absolute blessing for providing humanitarian aid to the North and publicly announce that President Trump thinks that the idea (of providing humanitarian aid to the North) is a really good thing.”
“As a matter of fact President Trump asked to do so many times during the phone call,” the spokesperson added.
Kim Jong Un oversaw the launching of the DPRK’s first missile since November 2017 on Saturday, a day after indicators emerged suggesting major food problems could be on the horizon in North Korea.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Program rapid food security assessment said on May 3 that it estimated that the “aggregate 2018/19 food crop production is estimated at 4.9 million metric tons, which is the lowest since the 2008/09 season.
Stephen Biegun’s four-day visit this week served, for Seoul, as an “an opportunity to jump-start a sputtering vehicle,” one expert told NK News.
“They want to jump start U.S.-North Korea diplomacy and inter-Korean relations, and to do that, they need to convince Biegun that it serves U.S. interests to re-energize the process with a creative, bold diplomatic initiative and support for more inter-Korean efforts,” said Mintaro Oba, a former State Department East Asia Desk officer.
The U.S. Special Representative kicked-off talks on Thursday with a breakfast meeting with counterpart Lee Do-hoon, with the two set to meet again tomorrow for a session of the two countries’ working group on North Korea.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News
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