Trump supports plan for humanitarian food aid to North Korea, says Seoul

Donald Trump arrives at an event to celebrate the first anniversary of US first lady Melania Trump's “Be Best” initiative at the White House in Washington.
Donald Trump arrives at an event to celebrate the first anniversary of US first lady Melania Trump's “Be Best” initiative at the White House in Washington.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON/SEOUL (REUTERS) - South Korea said on Tuesday (May 7) that United States President Donald Trump supports Seoul's plan to provide humanitarian food aid to North Korea after the United Nations reported the country had suffered its worst harvest in decades, leaving many there chronically short of food.

Mr Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke by telephone for 35 minutes on Tuesday and discussed ways to continue dialogue with North Korea in spite of its testing of weapons last week, a statement from the South Korean presidency said.

"The two leaders exchanged their views on a recent report on North Korea's food situation," the statement said.

"President Trump assessed that South Korea's food provision to North Korea as a humanitarian effort will be a very timely and positive measure and he supported this."

Mr Trump and Mr Moon also talked about a visit by Mr Trump to South Korea "in the near future", the statement said, without giving details.

A White House statement on the call said only that Mr Trump and Mr Moon "discussed recent developments" on North Korea and how to achieve its "final, fully verified denuclearisation."

However, when Mr Trump was asked by reporters last month whether he was prepared to ease some sanctions on North Korea, he said he and Mr Moon were discussing "certain humanitarian things" and the possibility of South Korea helping North Korea with food.

A UN report released last Friday said four in 10 North Koreans were chronically short of food and further cuts to already minimal rations were expected after the worst harvest in a decade.

The South Korean statement said that despite North Korea's weapons tests, Mr Trump and Mr Moon "discussed ways to resume denuclearisation talks as soon as possible, while keeping North Korea on the dialogue track for denuclearisation."

Mr Trump and his administration have played down the North Korean weapons tests, which took place last Saturday, and which military analysts say could have involved short-range, ground-to-ground ballistic missiles.

In a Twitter message last Saturday, Mr Trump said he was still confident he could reach a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Analysts have interpreted the North Korean tests as an attempt to exert pressure on Washington to give ground in denuclearisation negotiations after a February summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim ended in failure.