The South Korean government will likely not be able to deliver a shipment of food aid to North Korea by this month as previously planned, Seoul’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) said on Friday.
The news means Seoul may miss a deadline set by unification minister Kim Yeon-chul in mid-June, when he announced plans to send 50,000 metric tons of rice to the DPRK via the World Food Programme (WFP) “without delay” and by the end of September.
Stressing the urgency of the delivery, South Korea at the time warned the food situation in North Korea “could further deteriorate” during the lean season from May to September and that the aid was needed ahead of the next harvest.
But Friday saw MOU deputy spokesperson Kim Eun-han admit that Seoul expects “it will not be easy to implement the original plan to complete the aid by the end of September when giving consideration to a period necessary to implement [the plan].”
To send a shipment of humanitarian food aid, consultation between the WFP and Pyongyang is needed, as well as procedure including the procurement of a cargo ship, he said.
“I hope the consultation between the WFP and the North will proceed smoothly.”
An MOU official on August 20 reportedly said around three weeks would be required before the first batch of the shipment departed, saying it was too early to discuss whether Seoul could provide food assistance as scheduled.
The provision of food was first delayed in July, following news via the WFP that Pyongyang planned to reject the food aid package in protest against then-planned joint ROK-U.S. military drills.
The MOU deputy spokesperson on Friday also declined to directly comment on news that North Korea had formally requested the UN cut the number of staff in-country.
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric had on Thursday said the UN is “in dialogue” with the North Korean government, Kim said.
“I think it is a little too early to comment on the impact [of the letter],” the MOU spokesperson stressed.
Friday’s news comes amid broader deadlock in inter-Korean relations, with DPRK Vice Premier Ri Ryong Nam on Thursday blaming Seoul for the absence of dialogue between the two sides.
A North Korean delegation led by Ri arrived in Vladivostok on Monday to participate in the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), according to the country’s state media.
“South Korea should implement agreements specified in the joint declarations and the Panmunjom Declaration… can [dialogue] take place without such implementation?” Ri told a reporter in a statement carried by Yonhap News Agency.
In response to Ri’s comment, the MOU deputy spokesperson on Friday said the government’s stance was to “faithfully implement agreements made between the two Koreas including inter-Korean joint declarations for the improvement of inter-Korean relations and peace settlement on the Korean peninsula.”
“We will draw up measures so that the two Koreas can implement the agreements in earnest based on mutual trust while keeping close tabs on the relevant situation.”
Meanwhile, the South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo on Friday reported that national security adviser and director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong flew to Russia for a secret visit on Wednesday.
“Director Chung on September 4 departed for Russia with a working-level official,” the Chosun Ilbo reported, citing multiple unnamed diplomatic sources.
“While President Moon Jae-in is making a tour of three Southeast Asian countries, the NSO director intends to examine the situation of Northeast Asia on behalf of [the President].”
Asked to comment on the report by NK News, an official at the South Korean presidential office declined to confirm or deny it.
The Chosun Ilbo did not report the precise purpose of Chung’s secret trip to Russia, raising the possibility that the visit could be tied to behind-the-scenes plans to resume inter-Korean dialogue.
Should the visit be confirmed and tied to inter-Korean talks, it would come just two weeks before the two Koreas mark the first year anniversary of the Pyongyang Joint Declaration and the inter-Korean military agreement, signed on September 19.
Last month also saw the South Korean President notably say it would be a “very meaningful occasion for peace on the Korean peninsula and in East Asia” should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un participate in the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit in Busan this November.
In a written interview with the Bangkok Post, Moon said the decision on whether to invite the North Korean leader “should be made in consideration of the progress being made in the peace process on the Korean peninsula, including the dialogue between North Korea and the U.S.”
Edited by James Fretwell and Oliver Hotham
Featured image: NK News
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