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Trump Supports Food Aid for North Korea, South Says

SEOUL, South Korea — Despite North Korea’s recent weapons tests, including of a possible new short-range ballistic missile, President Trump said he supported South Korea’s humanitarian aid for the North to help alleviate its food shortages, the office of President Moon Jae-in of South Korea said on Tuesday.

Mr. Trump expressed his support for humanitarian aid for North Korea when he and Mr. Moon talked on the phone on Tuesday night to discuss how to bring the North back to the negotiating table for nuclear disarmament, Mr. Moon’s office said in a statement.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon discussed the recent joint report by the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization, released last week, in which the United Nations relief agencies warned that about 40 percent of North Korea’s population was in urgent need of food aid after the country suffered its worst harvest in a decade.

“The two leaders discussed how to prevent North Korea from veering off the track of dialogue for denuclearization and how to resume the dialogue as early as possible,” said Mr. Moon’s spokeswoman, Ko Min-jung. “President Trump assessed that South Korea’s humanitarian food aid for North Korea would be a very timely and positive step, and supported it.”

The talk between Mr. Trump and Mr. Moon came three days after North Korea launched a number of short-range projectiles off its east coast, including rockets fired from multiple-launch tubes and at least one projectile that analysts said looked like a new short-range ballistic missile. North Korea launched between 10 and 20 projectiles on Saturday, Ahn Gyu-back, a governing-party lawmaker in South Korea, told reporters on Tuesday after a closed-door briefing by Defense Ministry officials.

Both American and South Korean officials said they were still analyzing flight data to determine what types of weapons were tested.

If the “tactical guided weapons” the North said it tested on Saturday included a ballistic missile, it would be its first ballistic-missile test since North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in November 2017. It would also violate United Nations Security Council resolutions barring North Korea from testing any ballistic missile technology, although it would not renege on the moratorium on nuclear and ICBM tests that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, unilaterally announced in April last year.

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People at the Seoul train station watched a news report on Sunday about the North’s latest launch.CreditAhn Young-Joon/Associated Press

North Korea’s short-range weapons tests were seen by analysts as an attempt to increase pressure on Washington to return to the negotiating table with a more flexible proposal following the breakdown of the summit meeting between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February. The Hanoi talks collapsed when Mr. Kim demanded the lifting of key sanctions in return for a partial dismantlement of his country’s nuclear facilities. Mr. Trump said he would not ease sanctions until the North fully and verifiably denuclearized.

North Korean and American officials have since been unable to resume negotiations.

By launching short-range projectiles only, Mr. Kim appeared not to give up dialogue with the United States anytime soon, analysts said. Mr. Trump has repeatedly cited Mr. Kim’s moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests as a reason to continue diplomatic negotiations with North Korea.

Both Washington and the South also remain eager to keep North Korea on the diplomatic track.

They have been unusually reserved in their responses to North Korea’s weapons tests, calling the North’s new projectile a “guided weapon” even though the photos released in the official news media appeared to leave little doubt that it was a missile. Defense analysts in South Korea said the new projectile may have been based on the design of the Iskander, a solid-fuel short-range ballistic missile from the Russian military.

After the North Korean launches Saturday, Mr. Trump said that Mr. Kim “knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!”

South Korea has yet to announce a plan to ship humanitarian aid to North Korea. But Mr. Moon is desperate to revive his role as a facilitator of dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang, the North’s capital, even if it entails providing humanitarian aid.

Both South Korea and the United States had used humanitarian aid shipments in the past as an incentive for North Korea to reduce tensions and return to dialogue. In recent years, American officials have been increasingly skeptical about the approach, arguing that the North should have bought food for its own people with the money it spent on building nuclear weapons. Nor did humanitarian aid help persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons development, they said.

But Mr. Trump has recently hinted at flexibility.

When Mr. Moon met him at the White House on April 11, Mr. Trump said he and the South Korean leader were discussing humanitarian aid for the North.

“I’m O.K. with that, to be honest,” he told reporters at the time. “South Korea is doing certain things to help out with food and various other things for North Korea.”

United Nations sanctions against North Korea do not ban humanitarian aid for the country. But after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan in 2017, South Korea was forced to shelve its plan to donate $8 million to the World Food Program and United Nations Children’s Fund to help North Korea’s malnourished children and pregnant women.

Source: NYT

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