U.S. envoys are finalizing arrangements for the first U.S. government food aid shipment to impoverished North Korea in three years.
Special envoy Robert King and senior aid official Jon Brause said talks Wednesday would aim to ensure proper procedures and safeguards are in place to make sure that nutritional aid for about one million North Koreans gets to those who need it most.
The program is focusing on vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly. An agreement was reached last week for a resumption of shipments in exchange for North Korea agreeing to freeze nuclear activities and allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors.
The last handouts ended abruptly in 2009 when North Korea expelled U.S. food monitors.
The U.S. urged North Korea on Tuesday to prove it is serious in pledging to roll back its nuclear programs by allowing UN experts back into the country quickly to monitor its commitments.
Possible 1st step towards dismantling program
In comments to an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting, U.S. delegate Robert Wood also said Washington saw last week's agreement as only a first step toward total dismantling of the North's nuclear weapons program.
North Korea sanctions tightened in 2009
North Korea faces tough UN sanctions that were tightened in 2009 when it conducted its second nuclear test and launched a long-range rocket. In late 2010, Pyongyang unveiled a uranium enrichment facility that could give North Korea a second route to manufacture nuclear weapons in addition to a plutonium-based program at its reactor.
Addressing the IAEA's 35-nation board, Wood said the world "will be watching closely and assessing how North Korea comports itself in carrying forward … these commitments."
The deal also opens the way for IAEA inspections of the North's nuclear program, which has gone unmonitored since the country asked agency experts at the Yongbyon reactor to leave and restarted its atomic activities three years ago.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano told reporters Monday that there have been no discussions to date with the North on the return of his inspectors and Wood said Washington has urged Pyongyang "to initiate direct contact with the IAEA Secretariat as soon as possible."
Describing the North's commitments as an "initial positive signal," Wood said Washington hopes they will be followed by "substantive and meaningful negotiations on denuclearization that addresses the entirety of the North Korean nuclear program."
"This would include all nuclear activities … including all aspects of its uranium enrichment program and light-water reactor construction activities," he said in remarks to the closed meeting made available to reporters.