For the first time in almost a year, the United States is providing aid to North Korea, sending up to $900,000 in emergency assistance for flood relief.
The plans to deliver aid, announced on Thursday, come at a time when North and South Korea have tried to improve relations, with the United States playing a key role.
After a meeting of nuclear envoys from the North and South last month in Indonesia, U.S. officials met with North Korea representatives in New York. Pyongyang has been pushing to resume broader, multinational talks on its nuclear disarmament, but other countries, including the United States, have been wary of reengaging without some sign of commitment from North Korea, which has reneged on its promises before.
At the same time, however, U.S. officials have expressed concern that without a dialogue, North Korea is likely to engage in more provocative actions.
Earlier this month, North Korea fired three artillery shells toward its disputed sea border with the South. And this week, as the United States and South Korea began an annual joint military exercise, North Korea reacted with furious rhetoric.
The aid announced on Thursday will consist of medical supplies and won’t include food, said a State Department official who was not authorized to speak by name. The United States has been reluctant in the past to provide food aid over concerns that it is may be diverted toward the military or the elite rather than to alleviate starvation among the general public.
Earlier this month, South Korea offered $4.7 million in aid to North Korea, the first time it had offered assistance to Pyongyang since North Korea’s deadly shelling in November led to a rift in relations.
The last time the United States provided aid to the North was in September 2010, when it sent $600,000 in medical supplies as flood aid, delivered through U.S.-based non-governmental organizations.
The isolated and authoritarian-led country has been plagued in the past year by floods, an outbreak of a livestock disease and a brutal winter.