The United States will provide North Korea with up to US$900,000 (546,348.57 pounds) in emergency flood assistance, the US State Department said in what appeared to be another sign of easing tension between Pyongyang and Washington.
The State Department said the decision on assistance, which has been pending since a US delegation visited North Korea in May, was in response to humanitarian needs arising from recent flooding in the country, Reuters reports.
“This emergency relief demonstrates our continuing concern for the well-being of the North Korean people,” the State Department statement said, adding that the United States supports humanitarian aid to North Korea “in accordance with international standards for monitoring.”
“It has been the United States’ long-standing position that the provision of humanitarian assistance is separate from political and security concerns,” the statement said.
It said the assistance from the US Agency for International Development would be channelled through US non-governmental organizations to address needs in North Korea’s Kangwon and North and South Hwanghae provinces.
It added that USAID had provided US$600,000 in emergency supplies to North Korea following severe flooding in September 2010.
The U.S. announcement follows a decision by South Korea, a key Washington ally, to offer almost US$5 million worth of food aid to North Korea to help its destitute neighbour recover from summer floods.
Seoul, Pyongyang and Washington have seen a flurry of diplomatic activity in the past several weeks as the United States gauges conditions for the resumption of six-party talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear arms program.
US and North Korean diplomats held what both sides termed “constructive” talks in New York last month, their first such interaction since 2009.
The US special envoy for North Korean human rights led a team to North Korea in May to assess the food needs in the isolated nation, where a United Nations report said earlier this year that more than 6 million people urgently need help.
Critics of aid say the North has siphoned off the food in the past to feed its million-strong army, and South Korean officials have accused North Korea of trying to hoard food ahead of a possible third underground nuclear test, which would likely provoke a further tightening of international sanctions.
North Korean state media said the country’s food problems have been exacerbated by heavy rains, and a tropical storm left widespread damages in the country’s central region in June and July, leaving more than 8,000 people homeless.
Damage was also extensive in farm regions with 60,000 hectares (148,000 acres) of land washed away or inundated, state media said, affecting the country’s already chronic food shortage.