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U.S. plays politics with N. Korean food aid, NGOs say

North Korea, October 14, 2011

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Andrew Quinn

October, 2011

U.S. aid groups have accused the Obama administration of playing politics with North Korean food aid, imperiling millions of hungry and vulnerable people in the isolated Communist state.

As South Korean President Lee Myung-bak continued his state visit to the United States on Friday a group of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) wants the Obama administration to explain what they call unconscionable delays in deciding whether to resume U.S. food assistance to North Korea.

"There has clearly been a political lens put over a humanitarian issue," said Jim White of the international relief organization Mercy Corps, which took the lead in prior U.S. aid efforts to North Korea.

"We are seeing large numbers of people in North Korea slip from chronic malnutrition to acute. There are needs now."

The United States says it is weighing North Korea's request for new food aid as Washington and its ally South Korea seek to maintain a firm line on Pyongyang's disputed nuclear program and sporadic bursts of belligerence against Seoul.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) declined to answer inquiries about when the decision may be made or what factors may be at play.

They stress, however, that any decision will be based on humanitarian need in North Korea -- a secretive country which is largely closed to foreigners.