US envoys: Progress in North Korea food aid talks

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BEIJING (AP) — U.S. envoys said there was progress in talks Wednesday on arrangements for the first U.S. government food aid shipment to impoverished North Korea in three years, part of an agreement aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

Special envoy Robert King said negotiations with their North Korean counterparts in Beijing went on until Wednesday evening and that officials would meet again Thursday.

"We've discussed a number of the issues and we're making progress," he said, declining to elaborate on the specifics.

An agreement was reached last week for a resumption of shipments in exchange for North Korea agreeing to freeze nuclear activities and allow the return of U.N. nuclear inspectors.

King and senior aid official Jon Brause said the talks are intended to ensure proper procedures and safeguards are in place to make sure that nutritional aid for about 1 million North Koreans gets to those who need it most. The program is focusing on vulnerable groups such as children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly.

The last U.S. food handouts ended abruptly in 2009 when North Korea expelled U.S. food monitors. An initial agreement on the provision of food aid was reached late last year, only to be delayed by the death in December of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

Talks later resumed under Kim's son and successor, Kim Jong Un, who is seen as closely hewing to his father's negotiating strategy of mixing willingness to engage with threats and brinkmanship.

Washington has said last week's agreement was only a first step toward total dismantling of the North's nuclear weapons program.

The deal foresees the delivery of 240,000 tons of U.S. food aid in exchange for a moratorium on long-range missile and nuclear tests, as well as the suspension of nuclear work at North Korea's Yongbyon reactor.

The deal also opens the way for United Nations nuclear monitors to inspect the North's nuclear program, which has gone unmonitored since Pyongyang asked agency experts at the Yongbyon reactor to leave and restarted its atomic activities three years ago.

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