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No food aid to N. Korea until its nuclear disarmament: S. Korean minister

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Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung reiterated Monday (June 4) that South Korea would not resume food aid to North Korea, unless it follows through on its promise to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

South Korea initially planned to begin sending 400,000 tons of rice to North Korea in late May, but the promised shipments have never been sent, as North Korea missed an April 14 deadline to close its nuclear plant in Yongbyon under a February disarmament accord.

Asked whether South Korea will continue to withhold the rice aid, Lee told an MBC radio program, "There should be two premises.

One is the implementation of the Feb. 13 accord and the other is the (South Korean) people's understanding, approval and assistance as the aid is paid for with taxpayers' money."

"The two things should go together. The North's implementation of early disarmament measures is important to foster an environment for the rice aid."

In a separate KBS radio interview later on Monday, Lee, however, said he expects "some changes" in the implementation of the Feb.

During last week's Cabinet-level talks with North Korea, Lee said he conveyed this position to his North Korean counterpart Kwon Ho-ung. "I believe the North Korean side accepted our position to some extent."

The four-days of inter-Korean talks ended without any substantial agreement as the two Koreas remained at odds over the rice aid issue. The North pulled out of similar inter-Korean talks last year, after the South rebuffed its request for food aid.

South Korea halted its shipment of fertilizer and rice to North Korea after the communist country rattled the region in July by test-firing multiple missiles, including a long-range rocket believed to be capable of reaching as far as the west coast of the U.S. Inter-Korean ties further soured after the North performed its first-ever nuclear test in October.

South Korea resumed its fertilizer aid in late March, as the North agreed to take initial steps towards its nuclear disarmament, such as the shutting down of its only operational nuclear reactor in Yongbyon, in talks with South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan. The North has yet to move on its promises because of a banking dispute with the U.S.

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