With little arable land and outdated agricultural practices, North Korea has long struggled to feed its people. The United Nations has said a quarter of North Korea’s 24 million people need aid and that malnutrition is surging, especially among children.
Addressing the need for food could be essential to stability under the new leadership.
In April 2012, North Korea will mark the centenary of the birth of national founder Kim Il-sung, the new leader’s grandfather. According to the country’s propaganda, that occasion will herald the North’s path toward a “great, prosperous and powerful nation.”
Kim Jong-un, like his father, will struggle with feeding his people and settling political differences with Seoul and Washington, according to Haksoon Paik, an analyst at the Sejong Institute in South Korea.
“Those problems are real tough challenges for the new leader in the North, the solution to which requires cooperation from (the) outside world,” Mr. Paik said.
The path toward reaching a deal on food aid remains unclear.
U.S. officials and North Korean diplomats based at its U.N. mission in New York have remained in touch since Kim’s Dec. 17 death, but the two sides have yet to restart formal discussions. The State Department says unresolved differences remain over the assessment of the food the North needs and how its distribution would be monitored.
Before Kim’s death, the wartime enemies had also been discussing setting up another round of bilateral talks aimed at restarting six-nation nuclear disarmament talks that the North pulled out of in early 2009. The talks also include China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
Ralph Cossa, president of Pacific Forum CSIS, a Hawaii-based think tank, said six-nation negotiations would likely resume at some point, as no one has come up with a better way for the parties to talk.
But “their stated intent — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — will remain a pipe dream,” Mr. Cossa said.
Matthew Pennington reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Jean H. Lee in Seoul and Charles Hutzler in Beijing contributed to this report.
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