Thursday, April 5, 2007

SEOUL (Agence France-Presse) — South Korea said yesterday that it would send rice aid to North Korea after a planned North-South Korea meeting this month, despite likely delays in shutting down its neighbor’s nuclear-weapons program.

Unification Vice Minister Shin Un-sang said the delayed implementation of the Feb. 13 six-nation nuclear accord would not affect the decision to send rice to its impoverished communist neighbor.

He said the amount would be decided at an economic meeting of the two Koreas in Pyongyang April 18 to 21.

“Sending rice aid is our official position, although a final decision will be made at the economic meeting,” Mr. Shin told reporters.

South Korea suspended its regular annual shipments of 500,000 tons of rice and 300,000 tons of fertilizer after the North’s missile tests in July. An Oct. 9 nuclear test further chilled the atmosphere.

Seoul resumed fertilizer shipments after progress at the six-party nuclear disarmament talks and agreed in principle to resume food aid.

The latest round of talks ended abruptly in Beijing last month after Pyongyang refused to negotiate until it receives money from its accounts at a Macao bank frozen at U.S. insistence since 2005.

The U.S. government agreed to free the funds, which were supposed to be transferred within a month after the February agreement to a North Korean account with the Bank of China.

However, the state-owned Chinese lender reportedly has refused to accept the money for fear of affecting its credit rating.

China’s top negotiator with North Korea said he doubts Pyongyang will meet the April 14 deadline to shut down and seal nuclear facilities under the first phase of the disarmament accord.

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