Seoul likely to resume N Korea aid shipments

South Korea is likely to resume shipments of food and fertiliser aid to North Korea suspended following last year’s missile tests, officials said as inter-Korean talks resumed in Pyongyang for the first time in seven months.

The talks are part of the burst of diplomacy that has followed this month’s multilateral agreement, under which North Korea agreed to take steps towards shutting down its nuclear weapons programme in return for energy and economic aid.

Just as North Korea’s neighbours have moved quickly to ensure the first steps are taken, Pyongyang has wasted no time in seeking to reap rewards from the agreement, requesting much larger shipments of food and fertiliser aid than South Korea had been offering.

As he left for Pyongyang on Tuesday, Lee Jae-joung, the South’s unification minister, said: “The most important thing to discuss is how to co-operate between the South and North to swiftly implement the February 13 nuclear agreement.”

North Korea agreed to shut down and seal its main nuclear facilities within 60 days and allow international inspectors to verify the process. Pyongyang has already invited the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit and Mohamed ElBaradei, its head, has said he will go in March.

In return for this first step, North Korea will receive 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and food and other aid. Seoul said it had set aside Won20bn ($21m, £11m, €16m) to fund the initial assistance.

Meanwhile, five working groups – including one on US-North Korea relations and another on energy and economic aid – are to be convened within 30 days.

Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s chief negotiator in the nuclear talks, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, apparently on his way to New York for the first working group meeting on bilateral relations, as agreed on February 13. Mr Kim is scheduled to deliver a lecture at Stanford University on the way, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

After these steps are completed, North Korea must provide a complete list of its nuclear programmes and disable all existing nuclear facilities, for which it will receive 950,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in corresponding steps to be decided.

In addition to the nuclear issue, North and South Korea will discuss the resumption of humanitarian aid and opening cross-border railways during the talks in Pyongyang, which will continue until Friday.

The talks were last held in July, shortly after North Korea launched a series of missiles, but they ended early after the South refused to resume humanitarian aid it suspended as punishment for the missile tests.

Officials said Seoul would be likely to ship some fertiliser soon so it could be used to plant rice this spring. “Our aid to North Korea will be within the scope of the amount that can be understood by the public,” an official said, suggesting the amounts would be similar to the 500,000 tonnes of rice and 350,000 tonnes of fertiliser shipped in previous years.

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