Officials Suspend North Korea Nutrition Aid Over Planned Launch
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2012 Concerns that North Korea would resume provocative behavior on the international stage in 2012 have proven true, so the United States has suspended plans to provide nutrition aid to the impoverished nation, senior defense officials told Congress today.
“Our suspicions … were confirmed when North Korea announced on March 16 that it plans to conduct a missile launch between April 12th and 16,” Peter R. Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, told members of the House Armed Services Committee. “This grand launch is highly provocative, because it manifests North Korea's desire to test and expand its long-range missile capability.”
Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, testified alongside Lavoy in a hearing examining the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.
After a series of U.S.-North Korean discussions in late February, the North Korean government agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches -- then announced plans for the launch just two weeks later, Lavoy explained.
The United States had agreed during the February talks to provide nutritional aid to North Korea. The World Food Program in November 2011 recommended targeted high-nutrition aid as critical to 3 million North Koreans most at risk for starvation.
Lavoy and Thurman both confirmed the United States will not deliver the planned nutrition aid.
“During those discussions, the United States made it very clear that a satellite launch would be a deal-breaker,” Lavoy told the panel.
Both men said U.S. officials have worked to “delink” humanitarian aid and political concerns, but defended the decision to suspend nutritional aid.
“The fact that North Korea so brazenly violated commitments that it just so recently agreed to … indicates that they're not reliable,” Lavoy said. “We cannot expect them to meet … the commitments that they've agreed to that are associated with the provision of nutritional assistance to the needy population in their country.
“It's regrettable that the food aid is not moving forward,” he added. “The North Korean population really needs nutritional assistance. And we're prepared to provide that to North Korea.”
Thurman said officials are working closely with allies and other partners in the region to try to discourage North Korea from launching the missile. Meanwhile, the general added, “we have been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea.”
Lavoy said the threatened launch would be in direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions 1718 and 1874, which prohibit North Korea from conducting any launches that use ballistic missile technology.
The launch would involve a North Korean-made Kwangmyongsong-3 polar-orbiting Earth observation satellite to mark the 100th birthday of late President Kim Il Sung, a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology said in a statement.
The late president’s birthday is April 15.
Lavoy said North Korea’s authoritarian government, founded by Kim Il Sung and subsequently led by Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un -- his son and grandson, respectively -- seeks to provoke other nations militarily as a means of demonstrating power to its people.
“Political successions are extraordinarily difficult when you don't have a representative government, which is the case there, of course,” he noted. Kim Jong Un took power after his father’s death in December.
“What we're seeing now and what we anticipate is provocative behavior, because, unfortunately, this seems to be the only way that the North Korean regime can try to demonstrate its bona fides to a population that is suffering terribly,” Lavoy added.
Thurman said North Korea’s “military first” policy diverts national resources away from food and essential services to the people.
“They maintain the fourth-largest conventional military force in the world, the world's largest special operating force, and significant long-range artillery capabilities,” the general said. “Over 70 percent of their combat powers are arrayed within 90 miles of the demilitarized zone.”
South Korea, home to some 28,500 forward-based U.S. troops, is “a vibrant democracy, economic success and global security partner, currently serving beside us in Afghanistan and off the Horn of Africa,” Thurman said.
“In stark contrast, one of the world's poorest, most closed and
most militarized countries, North Korea, lies less than 20 miles from the northern districts of Seoul, a city of over 24 million people,” he added.
The United States and South Korea have for 60 years maintained a close partnership aimed at deterring North Korean aggression and maintaining stability on the peninsula, Thurman noted.
“We are prepared to defend the peninsula and can do that,” the general said. “And we can repel any type of attack should the North Koreans decide to do that.”