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The agreement triggered skeptical reactions on Capitol Hill, particularly among Republicans long critical of using food aid as an incentive to deter North Korean nuclear-weapons ambitions.

“Years of getting duped by North Korea should tell us that verification on their turf is extremely difficult, if not impossible,” said Rep. Edward R. Royce, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation and trade.

“That applies to food aid distribution, where the military has stolen food aid, or nuclear disarmament. Last year, I passed legislation prohibiting food aid to any country that may divert it for unauthorized use,” the California Republican added.

The United States has provided about $800 million in food aid to North Korea since 1996. But a breakdown in relations with Pyongyang brought the aid to a halt during recent years.

Last April, in response to international concerns over the spread of starvation, particularly among women and children, the U.N. World Food Program called for $224 million in emergency aid for North Korea.

The United States and South Korea, traditionally the largest aid donors to North Korea, have refused to fund the request. So have others in the international community.

While the Obama administration has during recent months disputed reports that it was planning to resume the aid, Wednesday’s development suggests the contrary.

The contradiction prompted Mr. Royce to assert that “Congress must ensure that the administration is not skirting this law.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the agreement “sounds a lot like the failed agreements of the past.”

North Korea’s promise to suspend certain nuclear activities can’t be taken at face value Pyongyang will likely continue its clandestine nuclear weapons program right under our noses,” the Florida Republican said.

“We have bought this bridge several times before.”

Devil in the details

Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center, said, “With North Korea, the devil is always in the details, so we have to ensure that North Korea has agreed to what we think they have agreed to.”

He noted that past U.S. administrations have made a habit of embracing vaguely worded concessions by the North Koreans out of a desire to “maintain an illusion of progress.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday that U.S. officials will “be watching closely and judging North Korea’s new leaders by their actions.”

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