US, North Korea to hold talks on food assistance

WASHINGTON - The United States and North Korea will open talks on the resumption of US food aid to the impoverished country in Beijing on Thursday but US officials cautioned that no decision was imminent.
Robert King, the State Department's special envoy for human rights in North Korea, will meet his North Korean counterpart in Beijing to discuss Washington's conditions for resuming aid halted in 2009 amid disagreements over transparency and monitoring.
"We have said all along not only that we need to continue to assess need, but that were we to decide to go forward with this we would need to have much more strict and clear monitoring systems in place," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a news briefing on Wednesday.
Nuland said the North Korean delegation would include Ri Gun, Pyongyang's deputy negotiator for stalled six-party talks on nuclear issues, but US officials insisted there was no link between the food talks and the nuclear impasse.
North Korea suffered a crippling famine in the 1990s that killed an estimated 1 million people. It has continued to have chronic food shortages, which have been compounded since 2008-9 when the United States and South Korea suspended their food assistance efforts.