Seoul checking N. Korea's stance on food aid amid reports of possible refusal
SEOUL, July 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea is trying to confirm the North's official stance on Seoul's food assistance following media reports that Pyongyang is refusing to accept the aid due to Seoul's planned joint military drill with the United States, the unification ministry said Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, local dailies reported that the delivery of 50,000 tons of food assistance Seoul has promised to North Korea is making slow progress due to the North's uncooperative attitude toward the offer over the allies' joint military exercise.
The government unveiled the aid plan in June to provide the rice via the World Food Programme (WFP) to help the North address its worsening food shortages. It has been pushing to make the first shipment of the domestically harvested rice to the North this month with an objective to complete its delivery before September.
"The WFP learned that the North has such a stance internally in the process of working-level talks," the ministry said in a statement, referring to the media reports. "The government is trying to confirm the North's official position through the WFP."
On Tuesday, a ministry official said the overall procedure for delivery of the assistance is taking longer time than expected, declining to confirm whether the shipment will be able to begin this month.
According to an earlier report by the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization, North Korea's crop output last year hit the lowest level since 2008, with an estimated 10 million people, or 40 percent of its population, in urgent need of food.
North Korea has been increasingly criticizing the allies' joint military exercise, with its foreign ministry warning last week that the drill could affect the prospects of working-level nuclear talks that its leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to resume at their surprise meeting on June 30.
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