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Bertini: Food aid to North Korea would help relationship

The United States should provide food aid to North Korea as part of an effort to build a new relationship with that country after the death of its longtime leader, a former U.N. World Food Program executive director said today.

Catherine Bertini
“I think we have to be cautious, but it is the best opportunity in years for the U.S., South Korea, Japan, Russia and the other members of the six-party talks to be active with the PRK,” said Catherine Bertini, a former WFP executive director who now teaches at Syracuse University and is a fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The North Korean government announced Sunday that Kim Jong Il had died and that Kim Jong Un, his third son, is expected to succeed him. Kim Jong Un’s exact age is uncertain, although Bloomberg reported that a U.S. official said he is 27.

North Korea's climate makes it a difficult place to grow food, but the situation has been worsened by decades of radical isolationist communist rule. Flooding and a harsh winter have damaged this year’s crops.

The United States has been negotiating to provide food aid in exchange for North Korea suspending its uranium enrichment program, but no announcements have been made.

Bertini said that providing food would be a signal that the United States wants to help North Korean maintain stability during the leadership transition.

“They are in great need of food,” Bertini said, adding that providing food aid would be a signal that the United States want to help North Korea be stable during the leadership transition. However, it would be necessary to provide the food aid “in the context of strong monitoring," she noted.

The Atlantic today published a lengthy article on North Korea’s long-term food needs:

How Kim Jong Il Starved North Korea