WASHINGTON — The United States has suspended food aid to North Korea because Pyongyang has broken its promise to refrain from missile launches and cannot be trusted to deliver the aid to those who need it, a Pentagon official said Wednesday.
The United States had previously warned that any launch would jeopardize food assistance, but the official’s comments at a congressional hearing marked a tougher stance and made clear plans to deliver aid had already been scrapped.
A planned rocket launch next month by North Korea “reflects their lack of desire to follow through on their international commitments and so we’ve been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea,” Peter Lavoy, acting assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific affairs, told lawmakers.
In light of North Korea’s actions, the United States had “no confidence” that it was possible to “to ensure that the food assistance goes to the starving people and not the regime elite,” Lavoy said before the House Armed Services Committee.
Under a deal reached last month, North Korea had agreed to a partial nuclear freeze and a missile test moratorium in return for US food aid.
North Korea has scheduled what it calls a satellite launch between April 12-16 and the regime insists it is for scientific purposes.
The United States and other countries say it would in fact be a long-range missile test banned under UN resolutions.
“This planned launch is highly provocative because it manifests North Korea’s desire to test and expand its long-range missile capability,” said Lavoy, adding that it violated UN Security Council resolutions.
Just weeks two weeks before North Korea announced plans for the launch, the regime had agreed to a moratorium on long-range missile launches in return for food aid, he said.
“During those discussions, the United States made it very clear that a satellite launch would be a deal breaker,” he said.