- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 21, 2007

SEOUL — South Korea agreed today to send 400,000 tons of rice to impoverished North Korea despite the communist government’s failure to meet a deadline to shut down its nuclear reactor.

The agreement was reached after five days of economic aid talks in the North Korean capital. It was seen as a setback in South Korea’s attempt to use food aid as leverage to pressure the North to honor its pledge to shut down the reactor under the Feb. 13 nuclear disarmament deal with the U.S. and its regional partners.

The first batch of rice will be sent in late May, the agreement said. The South will ship 350,000 tons, and the remaining 50,000 tons be driven over land, across the world’s most heavily fortified border. There were no conditions attached to the aid delivery, according to the agreement.

The Koreas also agreed today to test a railway service to run on rebuilt rail tracks across their shared border. The North promised its military would guarantee the safety of travelers during the rail tests on May 17.

Last year, the North unilaterally called off a similar planned test run, citing objections from its military.

The two sides also agreed that South Korea would send raw materials for making clothes, shoes and soap to the North. In exchange, the South would have the right to develop mineral resources in the North.

Seoul, a key aid donor to the North, has sent more than 2 million tons of rice since the mid-1990s when natural disasters and mismanagement devastated North Korea’s economy and led to a famine estimated to have killed about 2 million people.

Following the February accord, Seoul decided to resume the aid shipments that it had suspended after the North conducted missile and nuclear tests last year.

But fearing it could be criticized for lavishing aid on North Korea before it takes steps to disarm, the South had sought to delay actual shipments until the North made progress on the nuclear deal.

North Korea failed to meet an April 14 deadline to shut the Yongbyon nuclear facility amid a prolonged financial dispute with the United States.

North Korea boycotted international nuclear talks for more than a year because Washington blacklisted a Macao bank where the communist country held $25 million. The U.S. accused Banco Delta Asia of helping the North to launder money and pass counterfeit $100 bills. Authorities in Macao froze the North’s accounts.

The U.S. and Banco Delta Asia said earlier this month that the North’s money had been unfrozen. But for unknown reasons, North Korea has yet to withdraw the money.

The two Koreas are still technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. But their relations have warmed significantly since the first and only summit of their leaders in 2000.

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