Some media outlets may have jumped the gun earlier this week, but the United States has now suspended a recent food aid agreement with North Korea over its apparent intention to go ahead with a long-range missile launch next month.
The so-called Leap Day deal between the United States and North Korea would in effect have traded “a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities” for 240,000 tons of food aid.
The news was confirmed yesterday by Peter R. Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs and Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, in testimony to members of the House Armed Services Committee.
“During those discussions, the United States made it very clear that a satellite launch would be a deal-breaker,” Lavoy told the committee.
Lavoy and Thurman explained U.S. officials had worked to “delink” humanitarian aid and political concerns, but they defended the decision to suspend the deal due to North Korean actions.
“The fact that North Korea so brazenly violated commitments that it just so recently agreed to…indicates that they’re not reliable,” Lavoy explained. “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.”
North Korea has declared the launch part of a “peaceful space program.” Reports have indicated that North Korea had already moved its long-range ballistic rocket to a northwestern launch site. The rocket, Kwangmyongsong-3 or Bright Star -3, is expected to be launched sometimes between April 12 and 16. North Korea has described the launch as nothing more than the deployment of a “earth observation satellite.”
“It's regrettable that the food aid is not moving forward,” Lavoy added. “The North Korean population really needs nutritional assistance. And we're prepared to provide that to North Korea.”