WASHINGTON — The United States has suspended plans to send food aid to North Korea because it has broken a promise to halt missile launches and cannot be trusted to give the help to those who need it, a Pentagon official said March 28.
The United States had previously warned that any launch would jeopardize food assistance, but the official’s comments at a congressional hearing marked a tougher stance and made clear plans to deliver aid had already been scrapped.
A planned rocket launch next month by North Korea “reflects their lack of desire to follow through on their international commitments and so we’ve been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea,” Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told lawmakers.
In light of North Korea’s actions, the United States had “no confidence” that it was possible “to ensure that the food assistance goes to the starving people and not the regime elite,” Lavoy told the House Armed Services Committee.
Under a deal reached last month, North Korea had agreed to a partial nuclear freeze and a missile test moratorium in return for U.S. food aid.
North Korea has scheduled what it calls a satellite launch between April 12-16, insisting it is for scientific purposes.
The United States and other countries say it would in fact be a long-range missile test banned under U.N. resolutions.
“This planned launch is highly provocative because it manifests North Korea’s desire to test and expand its long-range missile capability,” said Lavoy, adding that it violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Just weeks before North Korea announced plans for the launch, the regime had agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile launches in return for food aid, he said.
“During those discussions, the United States made it very clear that a satellite launch would be a deal breaker,” he said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said “it obviously makes sense that we’re not moving forward with this (food aid) right now till we see what happens.”
Separately on March 27, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to extend through the 2017 fiscal year a law that promotes human rights in North Korea.
The North Korea Human Rights Act authorizes funding for broadcasting into the closed country and for groups that promote democracy. It also calls for the United States to accept refugees from North Korea and renews the position of a U.S. special envoy for human rights in the communist state.
The bill still needs approval from the full Congress, but it enjoyed wide support.