WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States said Friday it will send 500,000 metric tonnes of emergency food aid to North Korea over the next year under a deal with Pyongyang to allow better monitoring of deliveries.
The two sides "have reached an understanding on the parameters of a program for the resumption of US food assistance for the North Korean people," the US Agency for International Development announced.
The USAID statement said it expected a first shipment to be sent in June, though operational and other details still need to be worked out.
Under the deal to meet a "major shortfall in food supplies," North Korea will receive 400,000 tonnes through the World Food Program (WFP) and about 100,000 tonnes via US non-government organizations (NGOs), according to USAID.
US officials said food aid stopped in 2006 amid problems over monitoring distribution.
The new agreement comes after a team of US government experts returned to Washington from talks last week in North Korea and discussions here centered on finding better ways to monitor deliveries.
Such monitoring is enshrined in the agreement.
"The two sides have agreed on terms for a substantial improvement in monitoring and access in order to allow for confirmation of receipt by the intended recipients," the statement said.
It said Washington and Pyongyang agreed on a "framework to allow WFP and NGO staff broad geographic access to populations in need and the ability to effectively monitor the distribution of US commodities."
The kinds of food to be distributed will be determined by a joint assessment conducted over the next few weeks, the statement said.
Experts will meet in the North Korean capital Pyongyang "in the near future" to work out operational matters and the launch of the aid.
"Premised on a successful outcome of those discussions, the United States will deliver a first shipment in June in light of the urgency of North Korea's food shortfall," it said.
A US think tank, the Peterson Institute for International Economics, warned this month that the North is at risk of outright famine -- 10 years after up to one million of its people died of starvation.
Chronic food shortages worsened this year due to soaring grain prices, crop damage following floods last summer and dwindling foreign donations.
The deal was not a surprise.
North Korea said last week that the talks with the US team had gone well "in a sincere atmosphere."
And a South Korean foreign ministry official, who returned to Seoul from Washington, told Yonhap this week that the United States has decided in principle to provide 500,000 tonnes of food aid.
USAID said the emergency aid program was developed through close coordination and extensive consultation with experts in the South Korean government.
Before suspending deliveries more than two years ago, USAID said it had provided about two million tonnes of food aid to North Korea through the WFP since 1995.
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