- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday cautioned South Korea against providing unconditional aid to North Korea, and South Korean officials said their policy toward the North had not changed.

Both administrations were responding to remarks by South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who said earlier this week during a visit to Mongolia: “I’m going to make a lot of concessions [to North Korea] … I’m going to provide institutional and material aid without conditions.”

In a related development, the Bush administration said it will not contribute to a new World Food Program (WFP) shipment to the communist state because of concerns about government interference in distributing the assistance.

Both U.S. and South Korean officials sought to play down Mr. Roh’s remarks, saying they were “private” and intended to assure the Korean community in Mongolia that Seoul cares about fellow Koreans in the North.

“Our understanding is that there is no change in South Korea’s policy toward the North,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.

Another State Department official said, “In the real world, what matters is what actually happens.”

Mr. Roh’s remarks were made available in a transcript released in Seoul and reported by the Associated Press.

Mr. Roh also said he had high expectations for a planned visit to the North next month by his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, because it could provide a chance for a “flexible dialogue” with Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader.

President Bush distanced his administration from Kim Dae-jung during a March 2001 summit in Washington. Kim Dae-jung had embraced a so-called “sunshine policy” of engagement with the North, and Mr. Bush said publicly that he did not trust North Korea’s leader.

After internal battles in the first Bush administration over whether to talk to the North Koreans, the White House initiated six-nation talks with the North that also involved Japan, South Korea, China and Russia.

Washington has since softened its opposition to Seoul’s efforts to reach out to the North.

“We ourselves have encouraged interaction between North Korea and South Korea,” Mr. McCormack said yesterday.

A South Korean official said yesterday that Mr. Roh’s comments were “in accordance with our principles and guidelines” and were “not a special declaration of change of policy.”

The WFP, meanwhile, said it planned to return to North Korea.

Under the $102 million plan, agreed Wednesday, the WFP would provide food for 1.9 million people, compared with about 6 million it had been helping before being expelled. It will supply 75,000 tons of grain annually, compared with more than 500,000 tons before.

“In the end, we’ve had to make some compromises,” Anthony Banbury, the WFP’s director for Asia, told reporters in Beijing. “We would have liked to have seen a bigger operation, but that was not possible at this time.”

The United States will not contribute to the latest shipment, Mr. McCormack said.

“We continue to have concerns about the ability to monitor whether or not these humanitarian food shipments do in fact get to those most in need,” he said.

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